Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most used synthetic polyesters, has a challenging recycling process. Current PET recycling methods achieve downcycling, producing low-value products such as PET textiles. Due to the limitations of existing techniques and production costs, it is difficult to realize industrial upcycling.
Because of this, a team led by Prof. Fu Yao and Prof. Deng Jin from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC), collaborated with Prof. Li Shen from Utrecht University, proposed a new method for upcycling waste PET through chemical depolymerization of acetic acid. Their work was published in Communication in Nature on June 5.
The researchers used acetic acid to depolymerize waste PET and achieved efficient recycling of PET into high purity terephthalic acid. Another high-value product of acetolysis of PET is ethylene glycol diacetate, which can be hydrolyzed with ethylene glycol or polymerized with terephthalic acid to form polyethylene terephthalate. Based on this, the researchers further proposed a closed-loop PET upcycling strategy and analyzed its life cycle.
The results show that compared to the current commercialized chemical recycling methods, which is to synthesize PET polyester from fossil resources, the non-renewable energy use and global warming potential of their new process can be reduced by more than 70% and 40%, respectively. This new strategy has the least environmental impact among all PET recycling methods proposed so far.
This research provides an environmentally friendly and low carbon pathway to realize the upcycling of PET waste with lower industrial costs. In addition, the team’s new upcycling strategy uses acetic acid, which is widely used in the industrial production of terephthalic acid. Therefore, this strategy can be easily adapted to the current industrial equipment and is widely promoted.
Yuantao Peng et al, Acetolysis of waste polyethylene terephthalate for upcycling and life cycle assessment study, Communication in Nature (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-38998-1
Awarded by the University of Science and Technology of China
Citation: New strategy for polyethylene terephthalate upcycling (2023, July 19) retrieved 19 July 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-07-strategy-polyethylene-terephthalate-upcycling.html
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