Chemical Upcycling of Polyethylene, Polypropylene, and Mixtures to High-Value Surfactants

Zhen Xu, Eric Munyaneza, Qikun Zhang, Mengqi Sun, Carlos Posada, Paul Venturo, Nicholas Rorrer, Joel Miscall, Bobby Sumpter, Guoliang Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus Citations


Conversion of plastic wastes to fatty acids is an attractive means to supplement the sourcing of these high-value, high-volume chemicals. We report a method for transforming polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) at ∼80% conversion to fatty acids with number-Average molar masses of up to ∼700 and 670 daltons, respectively. The process is applicable to municipal PE and PP wastes and their mixtures. Temperature-gradient thermolysis is the key to controllably degrading PE and PP into waxes and inhibiting the production of small molecules. The waxes are upcycled to fatty acids by oxidation over manganese stearate and subsequent processing. PP b-scission produces more olefin wax and yields higher acid-number fatty acids than does PE b-scission. We further convert the fatty acids to high-value, large-market-volume surfactants. Industrial-scale technoeconomic analysis suggests economic viability without the need for subsidies.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)666-671
Number of pages6
Issue number6658
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2800-84955


  • deconstruction
  • multilayer films
  • polymer analysis
  • polymers


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