Chemical and Biological Catalysis for Plastics Recycling and Upcycling

Lucas Ellis, Nicholas Rorrer, Kevin Sullivan, Maike Otto, John McGeehan, Yuriy Roman-Leshkov, Nick Wierckx, Gregg Beckham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

397 Scopus Citations


Plastics pollution is causing an environmental crisis, prompting the development of new approaches for recycling, and upcycling. Here, we review challenges and opportunities in chemical and biological catalysis for plastics deconstruction, recycling, and upcycling. We stress the need for rigorous characterization and use of widely available substrates, such that catalyst performance can be compared across studies. Where appropriate, we draw parallels between catalysis on biomass and plastics, as both substrates are low-value, solid, recalcitrant polymers. Innovations in catalyst design and reaction engineering are needed to overcome kinetic and thermodynamic limitations of plastics deconstruction. Either chemical and biological catalysts will need to act interfacially, where catalysts function at a solid surface, or polymers will need to be solubilized or processed to smaller intermediates to facilitate improved catalyst–substrate interaction. Overall, developing catalyst-driven technologies for plastics deconstruction and upcycling is critical to incentivize improved plastics reclamation and reduce the severe global burden of plastic waste. [Figure not available: see fulltext.]

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)539-556
Number of pages18
JournalNature Catalysis
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, Springer Nature Limited.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2A00-78171


  • catalytic depolymerization
  • chemical deconstruction
  • hybrid processes
  • plastics upcycling


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