Techno-Economic, Life-Cycle, and Socioeconomic Impact Analysis of Enzymatic Recycling of Poly(ethylene Terephthalate)

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Esterases have emerged as important biocatalysts for enzyme-based polyester recycling of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) to terephthalic acid (TPA) and ethylene glycol (EG). Here, we present process modeling, techno-economic, life-cycle, and socioeconomic impact analyses for an enzymatic PET depolymerization-based recycling process, which we compare with virgin TPA manufacturing. We predict that enzymatically recycled TPA (rTPA) can be cost-competitive and highlight key areas to achieve this. In addition to favorable long-term socioeconomic benefits, rTPA can reduce total supply chain energy use by 69%–83% and greenhouse gas emissions by 17%–43% per kg of TPA. An economy-wide assessment for the US estimates that the TPA recycling process can reduce environmental impacts by up to 95% while generating up to 45% more socioeconomic benefits, also relative to virgin TPA production. Sensitivity analyses highlight impactful research opportunities to pursue toward realizing biological PET recycling and upcycling.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)2479-2503
Number of pages25
Issue number9
StatePublished - 15 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-2A00-79571


  • cutinase
  • environmentally extended input-output analysis
  • enzymatic PET depolymerization
  • esterase
  • life cycle assessment
  • PETase
  • plastics recycling
  • socioeconomic impacts of recycling
  • supply chain modeling
  • techno-economic analysis


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