Upcycling Plastics Waste into Lubes

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Upcycling Plastics Waste into Lubes
Recycled plastic bottles pressed into bales. © VanderWolf Images

A team of researchers from a number of companies and institutions seeks to turn plastic waste into lubricants, including hydraulic fluids and greases. The research is part of a government program funding sustainable innovations.

The project’s goal is to reduce the impact of waste plastics by upcycling them into lubricants. Upcycling is the process of turning byproducts, like waste, into higher-value products.

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The team has already made progress in its research: In May it published a paper saying that lubricants made from plastic waste performed comparably to synthetic base oils, like polyalphaolefins, in terms of wear scar volume, and even performed better in that category than API Group III-based lubes.

“This novel technology offers a cost-effective opportunity to reduce the harmful environmental impact of plastic waste on our planet and to save energy through reduction of friction and wear-related degradations in transportation applications akin to synthetic oils,” the paper said.

The team includes personnel from Argonne National Laboratory, Chevron Philips Chemical Co., Chemstations Inc., American Packaging Corp., the City of Ames Resource Recovery Facility, Hy-Vee, Iowa State University and Texas A&M University.

The team’s next goal is to research the cost and technology needed to upcycle plastic waste and find out more about how these products may perform, according to the Texas A&M Today newsletter.

The research is being financed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Plastics Innovation Challenge, part of an initiative by the government agency to reduce plastic waste. It is one of 12 programs receiving money.

As of 2010, the United States ranked 20th worldwide in plastic pollution with 2.8 million tons of plastic waste generated per year. Plastic waste can cause harm to wildlife both on land and in the ocean while also contaminating water sources.

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