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11. Joint ToPIC: Polymers UpCycling and RecYCling

Maximum Phase I Award Amount: $200,000

Maximum Phase II Award Amount: $1,100,000

Accepting SBIR Phase I Applications: YES

Accepting STTR Phase I Applications: YES


This topic supports the objectives of the Plastics Innovation Challenge to focus resources from across the DOE to create a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations that will dramatically reduce plastic waste in oceans and landfills and position the U.S as global leaders in advanced plastics recycling technologies and in the manufacture of new plastics that are recyclable by design.


Plastic production is energy intensive, and the bulk of this energy (and inherent value) is lost as post-use plastic is discarded. Plastics recycling is an extremely complicated challenge, in part due to the diversity of plastics that make up modern waste streams. As such, modern recycling technologies currently require plastics to be sorted into high purity, contaminant-free streams to create value in the recycling process.


This is a joint topic sponsored by the following EERE Technology Offices: Advanced Manufacturing and Bioenergy Technologies. The Vehicles Technology Office is also supporting a complementary subtopic supporting the objectives of the Polymers Upcycling and Recycling activity. Please see Subtopic c of Topic 17 for more information.


All applications to this topic must:

·         Include projections for price and/or performance improvements that are tied to a baseline (i.e. internal baseline and/or published state of the art products or practices);

·         Propose a tightly structured program which includes technical milestones that demonstrate clear progress, are aggressive but achievable, and are quantitative;

·         Explicitly and thoroughly differentiate the proposed innovation with respect to existing commercially available products or solutions;

·         Include a preliminary cost analysis;

·         Provide a path to scale up in potential Phase II follow on work;

·         Fully justify all performance claims with thoughtful theoretical predictions or experimental data;

·         Be based on sound scientific principles (i.e. abides by the law of thermodynamics).


Grant applications are sought only in the following subtopic:



a.      Improving Plastics Compatibilization for More Efficient Recycling

This subtopic seeks proposals to develop new compatibilizers that may enable processing of plastic resins and the downstream recycling or upcycling of a mixed plastic stream. The scope of this work may span fundamental research investigating novel approaches to improve miscibility to applied approaches to characterize resins generated through processing with compatibilizers at scale.


Compatibilizers are materials or molecules that promote miscibility between disparate plastic resins, allowing for the direct recycling of mixed plastic. Traditionally, compatibilized post-consumer resins are most commonly downcycled for application as durable goods. The robust and scalable compatibilization of disparate plastic chemistries into a valuable same-cycled or even upcycled resin would dramatically improve the economics for materials recovery facilities (MRFs) and the deployment of recycling compatibilizers. In recent years, application of tailored copolymers has allowed for highly effectively compatibilization of disparate polymer chemistries to a resin of equal or improved properties [1, 2, 3]. Innovations targeting all moderate to high volume plastics will be considered for this topic, including polyamides, and copolymers such as Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). However, preference will be given to applications that apply to plastics often prioritized by MRFs, specifically polyolefins, polyesters, and polystyrene, since broader collection infrastructure is most advanced for these materials. The resulting mixed resins must possess mechanical and optical properties that allow for same cycling or displacement of virgin material.


Areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

·         Demonstration of a compatibilizing technology that can be applied to two or more commonly discarded plastics into a product of performance commensurate with virgin feedstock.

·         Application of a novel compatibilizer material, including but not limited to tailored copolymers, bio-based feedstocks, or inorganics.

·         Application of a novel compatibilization process.

·         An improvement in the energy efficiency of the recycling process.

·         Development of a mixed polymer resin that is capable of substituting virgin polymer in any moderate or high-volume application.


Questions – Contact: Melissa Klembara, or Gayle Bentley,


References: Subtopic a:

1.      SPI: The Plastics Industry Trade Association. “Compatibilizers: Creating New Opportunity for Mixed Plastics.” May, 2015,


2.      Eagan, James M., Jun Xu, Rocco Di Girolamo, Christopher M. Thurber, Christopher W. Macosko, Anne M. LaPointe, Frank S. Bates, and Geoffrey W. Coates. “Combining Polyethylene and Polypropylene: Enhanced Performance with PE/ i PP Multiblock Polymers.” Science 2018 355 (6327), 814–816.


3.      Li, Huanmin, Xianwei Sui, and Xu-Ming Xie. “High-Strength and Super-Tough PA6/PS/PP/SEBS Quaternary Blends Compatibilized by Using a Highly Effective Multi-Phase Compatibilizer: Toward Efficient Recycling of Waste Plastics.” Polymer 123 (August 2017): 240–46.

4.      Jun Xu, James M. Eagan, Sung-Soo Kim, Sanshui Pan, Bongjoon Lee, Kristine Klimovica, Kailong Jin, Ting-Wei Lin, Micah J. Howard, Christopher J. Ellison, Anne M. LaPointe, Geoffrey W. Coates, and Frank S. Bates, “Compatibilization of Isotactic Polypropylene (iPP) and High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) with iPP–PE Multiblock Copolymers.” Macromolecules 2018 51 (21), 8585-8596,

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