Researchers Engineer Microorganisms to Tackle PET Plastic Pollution

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Energy dot gov Office of Energy Efficiency and renewable energy

Bioenergy Technologies Office


November 19, 2021

Researchers Engineer Microorganisms to Tackle PET Plastic Pollution

An NREL Scientist working on PET recycling

An NREL researcher prepares an experiment to evaluate the ability of engineered P. putida (in the flasks) to break down PET. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Although plastics are essential to our everyday lives, they are durable materials that do not naturally biodegrade, taking decades or even centuries to decompose in landfills or the natural environment. More than 82 million metric tons of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is produced globally each year to make single-use beverage bottles, packaging, clothing, and carpets and it is one of the largest sources of plastic waste.

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are making progress on a possible solution to PET waste. In conjunction with the Bio-Optimized Technologies to keep Thermoplastics out of Landfills and the Environment (BOTTLE) Consortium, a collaborative research team has developed a method to upcycle PET into performance-advantaged nylon, a precursor to other valuable products such as waterproof clothing, stick-free cookware coatings, and heat-resistant machine parts.

Led by the DOE's Bioenergy Technologies Office and Advanced Manufacturing Office, the BOTTLE Consortium consists of partners from five national labs and five universities.

Learn more about the research with NREL's news story