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  • Writer's pictureKristin Cooper

Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap and Request for Information

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released the Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap and a Request for Information (RFI) seeking stakeholder input on the Draft Roadmap. Announced in November 2019, the Plastics Innovation Challenge is a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies. The Plastics Innovation Challenge will also position the United States as a global leader in design and implementation of advanced plastics recycling technologies and in the manufacture of new plastics that are recyclable by design.

“The Plastics Innovation Challenge leverages the extensive expertise and capabilities of the Department of Energy and our National Labs to think beyond the status quo and make a real impact in addressing our plastic waste issues,” said Deputy Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes. “Our stakeholders are an essential source of valuable direction, and we ask for their feedback as we pursue solutions for issues that affect us all.”

The Plastics Innovation Challenge aims to make domestic processing of plastic waste economically viable and energy efficient, develop new and improved plastic materials lacking the same end-of-life concerns as incumbent materials, and ultimately reduce plastic waste accumulation.

Four strategic goals define the scope of the Plastics Innovation Challenge:

Deconstruction: Develop biological and chemical methods for deconstructing plastic wastes into useful chemicals

Upcycling: Develop technologies to upcycle waste chemical streams into higher-value products, encouraging increased recycling.

Recycle by Design: Design new, renewable plastics and bioplastics that have the properties of today’s plastics, are easily upcycled, and can be manufactured at scale domestically.

Scale and Deploy: Support an energy- and material-efficient domestic plastics supply chain by helping companies scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets, while improving existing recycling technologies such as collection, sorting, and mechanical recycling.

The Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap identifies key research needs and opportunities for DOE-sponsored research and development. The Draft Roadmap identifies challenges and opportunities across thermal, chemical, biological, and physical recycling and upcycling methods, as well as material design strategies for recyclability. Additionally, the Draft Roadmap:

  1. Provides an overview of the plastic waste problem, including the limits of current recycling technologies;

  2. Identifies the initiative’s 2030 vision, mission, strategic goals, and objectives;

  3. Details challenges and opportunities identified by previous DOE activities and workshops;

  4. Lays out key research directions;

  5. Delivers an outline of current DOE activities, capabilities, and coordination; and

  6. Describes potential near-, medium-, and long-term targets for each research area.

The Draft Roadmap also serves as a unifying document, providing structure and aligning activities across the DOE offices involved in this effort, including the Offices of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Science, and Fossil Energy and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). This roadmap will guide DOE efforts to meet the Plastics Innovation Challenge 2030 goals by providing alignment within DOE, a framework to focus on select strategies for managing plastic waste, and research directions at every level of technical maturity.

In addition to the Draft Roadmap, DOE also released an associated RFI. The purpose of this RFI is to solicit feedback from stakeholders to ensure the Plastics Innovation Challenge is optimally positioned to address opportunities and challenges for the discovery, development, and deployment of technologies for plastic waste management and reduction. Responses to the RFI are due March 1, 2021.

More information on the Draft Roadmap and the RFI can be found on the Plastics Innovation Challenge website.

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