Recovering waste plastics using shape-selective nano-scale reactors as catalysts


Waste plastic composed of low-density polyethylene can be converted into a potential new fuel source. This research describes a new nano-scale catalyst with well-defined and uniform surface openings. This material, called Al-SBA-15, is shape-selective, so it uses only one step to generate a gasoline-type product that requires less additional processing compared to that produced by previous catalysts.

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Fig. 1: Physico-chemical characterization of Al-SBA-15 materials tested for the pyrolysis of LDPE.
Fig. 2: Catalytic performance as the outcome of cracking LDPE.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


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This work was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), under the Vidi grant no. 10284, carried out at the ITM-FWN, Groningen University. We acknowledge the support of the industrial steering committee (Shell, DSM, Norit-Cabot Nederland) and R. Winkler (Dutch Technology Foundation). Special thanks go to M. Rigutto (Shell) for his cooperation. We acknowledge E. Polushkin (Polymer Chemistry and Bioengineering, Zernike Institute for Advanced Materials, University of Groningen) for his technical assistance and the NWO for the financial support for project no. 700.58.103 (Small Angle X-ray Facility). M.R.R. acknowledges the US Department of Energy Office of Science (Basic Energy Sciences) for research funding and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a US Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility operated under Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231 for access to supercomputing facilities. K.G-M and K.T. acknowledge the National Science Centre, Poland (grant no. 2015/18/E/ST4/00191). We also thank M. Hadfield (Analytix) for his assistance. D. Wiersma and B. Feringa (Groningen University) are thanked for support in setting a TGA apparatus. M. Makkee and his team (TU-Delft) are thanked for support, and guidance, in setting advanced infrastructure for heterogeneous catalysis research at Groningen University, by endorsing a capital STW research grant.

Author information




I.M.C. was the originator of the concept, and planned and supervised the experiments. Z.Z. synthesized the SBA-15-type materials, and carried out the preliminary characterization and catalytic testing, particularly ensuring the good quality of the materials. K.G.M. undertook the characterization of materials with the FTIR of probe molecules and interpreted the trends. J.S.W. carried out the pyrolysis-coupled gas chromatographic separation and mass spectrometry detection experiments and interpreted the product distribution. J.T. carried out the HAADF-STEM measurements and chemical mapping interpretation. M.R.R. assisted in the interpretation of the results and preparing the manuscript. K.A.T. prepared the mesoporous ZSM-5 material and assisted in the interpretation of the acidity and textural results. L.L.P. prepared the Al-MCM-41 material and assisted in the interpretation of the textural results. J.M.T. carried out the analysis of the elements and interpreted it. I.M.C. wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ignacio Melián-Cabrera.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References 1–6, Supplementary Figures 1–2

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Zhang, Z., Gora-Marek, K., Watson, J.S. et al. Recovering waste plastics using shape-selective nano-scale reactors as catalysts. Nat Sustain 2, 39–42 (2019).

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