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Julie Elaine Rorrer

Advancing the Catalytic Depolymerization and Upcycling of Plastic Waste

University of Washington

Event Details:

Monday, April 29, 2024
4:30pm - 5:30pm PDT


(In Person) Shriram 104

This event is open to:


Advancing the Catalytic Depolymerization and Upcycling of Plastic Waste

Julie Elaine Rorrer
University of Washington

Abstract: Plastics play an important role in modern life, from providing effective and safe packaging for food and medicine to materials for consumer products like clothing and electronics. Unfortunately, many plastic materials are only used once before they are discarded, and as a result these single-use plastics are accumulating in landfills and leaking into the environment, causing harm to the ecosystem and human health. Mechanical recycling is one way to give a second life to waste plastics, in which plastic is collected, separated, and reformed into new products. But these recycled products often have lower quality than the original material, and thus eventually end up incinerated or accumulating in landfills and the environment.  Chemical recycling is a method in which polymers such as polyolefins can be deconstructed into chemical building blocks, which can be used to produce higher value chemicals or monomers for the synthesis of new plastic. The use of catalysts can help lower the energy required to break the strong carbon-carbon bonds in polyolefins and improve selectivity towards desired products.  This talk will discuss advances in the catalytic depolymerization of waste polyolefins, with a focus on our progress in the thermal catalytic deconstruction of polyethylene and polypropylene under mild conditions. Next, the talk will discuss emerging frameworks and technical challenges for the chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste. Finally, the talk will present ongoing efforts to reduce the cost and environmental impacts of polymer deconstruction and upcycling.

Bio: Dr. Julie Rorrer is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Washington – Seattle. The Rorrer lab’s research is focused on the application of heterogeneous catalysis for sustainable chemical transformations including the upgrading of plastic waste and the synthesis of renewable and bio-based fuels and chemicals. She received her PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of California Berkeley and her BS in Chemical Engineering from Arizona State University. Prior to the University of Washington, Julie was an Arnold O. Beckman postdoctoral fellow at MIT. In addition to her research in chemical engineering, she is also the founder of the ongoing science communication and outreach initiative, ColorMePhD, which creates free educational coloring pages which explain PhD-level research using creative illustrations. She was recently named one of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers 35 Innovators Under 35 for her work in energy and the environment and commitment to advancing community engagement and inclusion in science and engineering.

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