Chapter 4: Chemical Recycling of PET

Robert Allen, Martin James

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The circular economy of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) today is dominated by collection, sorting, cleaning, melting, and re-processing of transparent bottles via mechanical recycling. This has a better environmental impact as assessed by Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) (e.g. uses less non-renewable energy and produces less greenhouse gases) than production of virgin resin and is the preferred method of recycling wherever possible. However, not all PET products can be recycled this way and there is forecast to be a large shortfall between supply of high quality recycled PET (rPET) and the demands of large users who have made commitments to use more recycled resin over the next 5 - 10 years. Consequently, there is renewed interest, and increased activity, in chemical recycling, where waste PET is depolymerized, and the monomer(s) are purified and repolymerized into resin equivalent to that from petroleum-derived raw materials. The LCA is likely to be not as favorable as traditional mechanical recycling, but will likely be better than virgin PET and the process can be applied to a broader range of lower value wastes and thus promises to dramatically increase the overall recycling rate. In this chapter we will review the processes used in chemical recycling of PET, with the VolCat process from IBM as a detailed case study, followed by descriptions of the alternative technologies and emerging players in the field.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationCircular Economy of Polymers: Topics in Recycling Technologies
Subtitle of host publicationACS Symposium Series, Vol. 1391
EditorsD. I. Collias, M. I. James, J. M. Layman
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/CH-2A00-79709


  • chemical recycling
  • circular economy
  • PET
  • recycled PET


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