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  Chemical Recycling of PET Plastic Using Thermo-Responsive Catalyst Supports

   School of Chemical Engineering

  ,  Applications accepted all year round  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

There is an urgent need to devise processes for recycling plastics, with an estimated 460 million metric tonnes of plastics being utilised worldwide in 2019 alone, of which only 10% is recycled globally, the remainder going to incineration, landfill or export. Current mechanical and thermal recycling techniques can be used to produce lower grade products such as clothing, insulation, garden and road furniture, but these have inferior properties, in comparison to virgin polymer, necessitating chemical recycling to produce virgin monomer.

This project will apply chemical recycling methods to the depolymerisation of PET, which is commonly used in industrial and consumer applications in bottles, packaging and clothing. The route selected is reaction with glycols over recently developed organocatalysts or metal salt/organic base dual catalysts. The product, BHET, can be directly used in the remanufacture of fresh PET via a circular economy process, however it must be separated from the reaction mixture.

This project aims to create solutions to these problems by developing supported catalysts and separation technologies to enable a scaled-up process for PET depolymerisation, which could potentially be deployed industrially. Catalyst supports will be developed based on thermally responsive polymers, which can be solubilised to contact the reacting mixture, or solidified via simple temperature cycling to aid recovery by filtration.

Specific objectives of this project will be to:

1) Optimise catalytic activity through experimental catalyst testing and collaboration with colleagues in Chemistry to develop new catalyst supports and formulations.

2) Understand the effect of catalyst immobilisation on depolymerisation kinetics via mathematical model fitting to experimental data, using packages such as gProms or Excel.

3) Investigate membrane separation methods to enable product recovery and catalyst recycling, including preparation and testing of membrane materials.

The project would be suitable for a Chemist, Chemical Engineer or related scientific discipline, with an interest in carrying out practical experimental work and some interest in mathematical modelling, although training will be provided. The student will collaborate with postdoctoral researchers in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry under a related EPSRC project.

Chemistry (6) Engineering (12)

Funding Notes

This project is funded by an EPSRC Doctoral Training Grant and is open to UK students only. Stipend and fees are covered at normal EPSRC rates.


C. Jehanno et al, Organocatalysed depolymerisation of PET in a fully sustainable cycle using thermally stable protic ionic salt. Green Chemistry, Volume 20, 2018, p1205-1212.

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