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FEATURE

Researchers develop an efficient, low-energy method for upcycling plastic

waste into valuable molecules, creating a second life for waste plastics.

GROUP MEMBERS

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Danny Zeng

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Yu-Hsuan Lee

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Dr. Mahdi Abu-Omar

FIND OUT MORE

RESEARCH

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.

ABOUT

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.

RESEARCH GROUP

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MEET THE TEAM

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MAHDI
ABU-OMAR

PRINCIPAL

INVESTIGATOR
 

B.S. summa cum laude Hampden-Sydney College

Ph.D. Iowa State University with James Espenson

Postdoc California Institute of Technology with Harry Gray

BAOYUAN

LIU

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Focus:

Metal catalysis (such as Ni, Ru, and Pd) and their use in non-food biomass conversion of green chemistry

DANNY
ZENG

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

Gettysburg College

 

Focus:

Converting low-value waste polymers such as polyethylene and polypropylene into high-value chemicals

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DINGYUAN
LIM

UNDERGRADUATE

STUDENT

 

UC Santa Barbara

Focus:

Polymer Upcycling

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JUSTIN
MARLOWE

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

Rutgers University

 

 

Focus:

Catalytic Hydrodeoxygenation of Biomass

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KELSEY RICHARDSON

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

University of Texas

Austin

 

Focus:

Simulation of Polymer Upcycling

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KITTY
MA

UNDERGRADUATE

STUDENT

 

UC Santa Barbara

 

Focus:

Catalytic sugar alcohol conversion and kinetic modeling

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MELISSA
SANCHEZ

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

CSU Fresno 

 

Focus:

Biomass conversion

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YU-HSUAN
LEE

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

Purdue University

 

Focus:

Study and application of Rhenium PNN catalyst

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ZACH
WESTMAN

GRADUATE
STUDENT

 

University of Arizona

Focus:
Chemical Upcycling

of Plastics

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JACK
HOPPER

GRADUATE

STUDENT
 

Louisiana State University

 

Focus:

Heterogeneous catalysis of biomass-derived sugar alcohols 

 

JOSHUA
SPEER

GRADUATE

STUDENT

 

Ithaca College

 

Focus:

Designing bimetallic pincers complexes for catalysis