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Episode 147: How the DOE Is Finding Energy & Value in Plastics

In this week’s episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Dr. Jay Fitzgerald, Chief Scientist from the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies office. We spoke with him about his work on new and innovative plastics, tackling the top challenges of single-use plastics and more.
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In this week’s episode of NothingWasted!, we chat with Dr. Jay Fitzgerald, Chief Scientist from the Department of Energy’s Bioenergy Technologies office. We spoke with him about his work on new and innovative plastics, tackling the top challenges of single-use plastics and more.

Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:

Waste360: Can you tell us a little about what your department does, and your role there?

Fitzgerald: Sure. I’m part of the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy office with the Department of Energy (DOE), which is kind of the applied research and development arm for the Department. The specific sub-office I’m in is the Bioenergy Technologies office, and in that office we’re looking at advanced biofuels and biomaterials.   

Waste360: I know the DOE recently announced funding for plastics technology and the reduction of things like energy emissions and single-use plastics. Can you dig into that and tell us more?

Fitzgerald: This was part of our broader push at looking at plastics from an energy perspective and technology perspective and seeing if we can tackle some of the challenges that the recycling industry faces. The funding is focused on single-use-plastic recycling and upcycling, so we really targeted things like single-use films, and other types of flexible packaging, which are among the least efficiently recycled types of packaging that are consumer facing. We’d like to help that segment of the plastic sector have more options for end-of-life materials.

Waste360: The world is paying such attention to plastics these days; do you think this is helping to build solutions?

Fitzgerald: I do. This is a problem that consumers have shown increased attention to, so a lot of producers and brands are looking at how their materials can be more efficiently recycled at end of life. There’s a lot of interest from companies; in our latest funding opportunity, almost all of our projects are partnered with at least one plastics producer or recycler or brand that is looking for a sustainable solution. That’s how we hope how this applied R&D we’re doing is able to make it out into industry effectively.

Waste360: What do you think about the people who really vilify plastics?

Fitzgerald: It’s a really challenging issue. There are a lot of really good energy implications of plastics where, if we completely did away with them, we’d be in a situation where we’re expending more energy to do the same functions. So we need to strike a balance between using plastics where they’re needed and using good alternatives where they exist.

Waste360: It seems like you have a lot in the hopper. What are you particularly excited about?

Fitzgerald: I think we’re tackling some really hard problems here, and I think that’s a great role for government funding—to look ahead and come up with some innovative solutions. I’m really excited about the a lot of the work that our bottle consortium is doing; they’re coming up with some really novel technologies in the recycling space—so looking at things like enzymes that can break plastics down and do so in way where you don’t even need to use things like high temperatures to be able to get plastics back into their building block form and be able to build those back up.

Listen to the full episode here.

#NothingWastedPodcast

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