Researchers develop an efficient, low-energy method for upcycling plastic
waste into valuable molecules, creating a second life for waste plastics.
Dr. Mahdi Abu-Omar
FIND OUT MORE
IN THE NEWS
UCSB researchers have discovered a new catalytic route to transform waste plastic to valuable products via tandem hydrogenolysis/aromatization. Compared with conventional methods that require high temperatures (between 500 and 1000°C) to break down the polymer chains into smaller hydrocarbon molecules, the newly developed method converts polyethylene under relatively mild conditions (ca. 300°C) over a platinum on alumina (Pt/Al2O3) catalyst without the need for added hydrogen or solvent. Hydrogen generated in the reaction from aromatization serves to cut the polymer chains, making the overall transformation thermodynamically accessible despite the moderate reaction temperature. As a result, long-chain alkylaromatics are formed in high yields directly from waste hydrocarbon polymers. These products are widely used in solvents, paints, lubricants, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and many other industrial and consumer products.
Our research group works at the interface of chemistry and chemical engineering. We create the science for providing renewable and recyclable alternatives to materials made from petro-chemicals. Polymers have provided humanity with tremendous benefits from food preservation through packaging to impressive fuel efficiency because of light weight advantage. However, a growing plastics waste problem is requiring creative chemistry to provide recyclable materials and chemical upcycling of currently in use plastics, polyolefins.
A common theme in our research group is catalyst design based onunderstanding of mechanisms on the molecular scale. Graduate students and postdocs in the group are given the freedom to tailor their own projects and are encouraged to collaborate with faculty and peers in other research groups on campus with whom we share common scientific interests.
MEET THE TEAM
B.S. summa cum laude Hampden-Sydney College
Ph.D. Iowa State University with James Espenson
Postdoc California Institute of Technology with Harry Gray
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Metal catalysis (such as Ni, Ru, and Pd) and their use in non-food biomass conversion of green chemistry
Converting low-value waste polymers such as polyethylene and polypropylene into high-value chemicals
UC Santa Barbara
Catalytic Hydrodeoxygenation of Biomass
University of Texas
Simulation of Polymer Upcycling
UC Santa Barbara
Catalytic sugar alcohol conversion and kinetic modeling
Study and application of Rhenium PNN catalyst
University of Arizona
Louisiana State University
Heterogeneous catalysis of biomass-derived sugar alcohols
Designing bimetallic pincers complexes for catalysis