This Exploratory Topic seeks to develop technologies to convert high-energy materials that are currently going to landfills into a high-energy content liquid product. Projects will develop processes to convert plastics, rubber, composites, and paper to create a high-energy content liquid that can be easily shipped to and stored at points of aggregation. These liquid products could be used as a fuel blend stock or an intermediate for further conversion into fuels or chemicals.
The chemical processes developed under this topic are anticipated to be used in the deployment of low-cost, simple, flexible, small-scale (100-500 ton per day) regional facilities using modular plants. Demonstrating simple, flexible “liquefaction chemistry” and meeting economic targets for low-cost, small scale “liquefaction” plants is crucial for the future deployment of these facilities. Smaller facilities could be more economical than large-scale facilities making purity products, due to high cost of transporting and aggregating waste and the high operating and capital costs for product purification. Teams will develop preliminary economics for a 250 ton per day facility to test the assumption that it modular facilities could be more economical than large processing plants.
Projects Funded Within This Exploratory Topic
WESTERN RESEARCH INSTITUTE
POLYMER/OIL CO-PROCESSING TO YIELD LIQUID PRODUCTS (MEME-CCS)
Western Research Institute will explore technologies based on pyrolysis (thermal conversion) and hydrocracking (a chemical process that upgrades low-quality, heavy gas oils) to convert waste, low-value plastic, and paper polymers into high-energy liquid products suitable as fuel, refinery feedstock, or feed for chemicals manufacturing. The pyrolysis technologies involve heating the polymers in oil media to a temperature high enough to break the chemical bonds to produce a liquid product. The pyrolysis may also be applied to low-level conversion of the polymers to yield a slurry feed for a hydrocracker to more efficiently convert the polymers. If successful, the research will open additional avenues for handling and processing portions of municipal solid waste streams.
ARGONNE NATIONAL LABORATORY
SELECTIVE HYDROGENOLYSIS OF PRE-CONSUMER POLYOLEFINS TO PREMIUM SYNTHETIC LUBRICANTS
Argonne National Laboratory, in collaboration with Northwestern University and Ames Laboratory, are developing a low-temperature catalytic upcycling process for converting pre-consumer plastic wastes made of polyethylene or polypropylene polymers to premium synthetic lubricants. The hydrogenolysis (decomposition of a compound resulting from its interaction with hydrogen) catalyst technology converts these polymers to the desired lubricant product with high selective and near-quantitative yields, and with negligible formation of light gases. Data generated will be used to develop a process flow design and conduct a techno-economic analysis for a 250-ton per day modular process that can be deployed at waste materials recycling facilities.
JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
HYDROCRACKING PLASTIC MIXTURES INTO XYLENE
Johns Hopkins University aims to catalytically convert low-cost #3-7 plastic mixtures into para-xylene, one of the most valuable hydrocarbon products. Johns Hopkins' primary design of the hydrocracking process first converts hydrocarbon plastics selectively to volatile hydrocarbons with xylene isomers as the predominant products. Then a post-reaction separation unit derives pure para-xylene as the desired product. The unit allows recycling of the residual H2 and possibly other hydrocarbons back to the hydrocracker. The ultimate goal of this project is to enable energy-efficient and economically viable depolymerization of end-of-life plastic mixtures into value-added chemical feeds.
LOW COST FEED FLEXIBLE PLASTICS REUSE (LCFFPR)
The United States is facing a huge plastic waste challenge. Altex Technologies Corporation will develop a novel process, system design, and catalyst to convert all types of plastic polymers, rubber, composites, and paper to a refinery grade crude oil. This crude oil then can be processed in U.S. refineries to produce gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel oil. Altex will demonstrate an end-to-end plastics-to-liquid fuel prototype system and develop a process design for a 250 ton per day plastic feed plant. The test data and analysis will be used to produce a techno-economic and life cycle analysis for the full scale plant. The low-cost feed flexible plastics reuse technology uses combined thermochemical conversion and contaminants pretreatment. Together with a novel product stabilization process, these factors produce a liquid fuel similar to crude oil, which can be processed by refineries to produce a valuable drop-in fuel from plastic waste.