The Critical Role of Process Analysis in Chemical Recycling and Upcycling of Waste Plastics

Scott Nicholson, Julie Rorrer, Avantika Singh, Mikhail Konev, Nicholas Rorrer, Alberta Carpenter, Alan Jacobsen, Yuriy Roman-Leshkov, Gregg Beckham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus Citations


There is an urgent need for new technologies to enable circularity for synthetic polymers, spurred by the accumulation of waste plastics in landfills and the environment and the contributions of plastics manufacturing to climate change. Chemical recycling is a promising means to convert waste plastics into molecular intermediates that can be remanufactured into new products. Given the growing interest in the development of new chemical recycling approaches, it is critical to evaluate the economics, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and other life cycle inventory metrics for emerging processes,relative to the incumbent, linear manufacturing practices employed today. Here we offer specific definitions for classes of chemical recycling and upcycling and describe general process concepts for the chemical recycling of mixed plastics waste. We present a framework for techno-economic analysis and life cycle assessment for both closed- and open-loop chemical recycling. Rigorous application of these process analysis tools will be required to enable impactful solutions for the plastics waste problem.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)301-324
Number of pages24
JournalAnnual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering
StatePublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Annual Reviews Inc.. All rights reserved.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-6A40-81535


  • circular economy
  • greenhouse gas emissions
  • life cycle assessment
  • recycling
  • techno-economic analysis
  • upcycling


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