Coronavirus has led to a boom in single-use plastics. NREL is launching a new effort to upcycle them. |

Coronavirus has led to a boom in single-use plastics. NREL is launching a new effort to upcycle them.

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette was in Golden for the groundbreaking where he pledged the Trump administration’s support for renewable energy efforts, despite proposed budget cuts

Jesse Paul / Colorado Sun
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, NREL chief Martin Keller and Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette break ground on a new research lab at NREL in Golden on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020.
Jesse Paul / Colorado Sun

In the coronavirus era, where germs present a deadly risk, people aren’t taking any chances.  They’d rather be sterile than sorry.

The result has been a boom in single-use plastics — gloves, bottles, packaging — reversing a yearslong trend of trying to reduce waste wherever possible. Demand for flexible packaging is expected to jump by 10% this year compared with a 3% increase the year before, The Wall Street Journal reported.

That’s why it was so fitting that the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden broke ground Wednesday on a new building for a lab dedicated to upcycling plastics, as well as next-generation batteries and energy materials. The space, formally called the Research and Innovation Laboratory, is expected to be completed by the fall of 2022. 

“When you look at the process right now of plastic bottles, the process is not really working too well,” said Dr. Martin Keller, NREL’s director. “There’s a lot of issues.”

The new lab will focus on breaking down used plastics into smaller molecules so they can be repurposed into something stronger and better.

“Now, you are creating a product that has a higher value than the original plastic bottle,” he said. 

The lab will also work on creating new polymers that are easier to degrade and, therefore, recycle, Keller said. 

To read the rest of the Colorado Sun article, click here.

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