The current scale of plastics production and the accompanying waste disposal problems represent a largely untapped opportunity for chemical upcycling. Tandem catalytic conversion by platinum supported on γ-alumina converts various polyethylene grades in high yields to liquid alkyl aromatics in the absence of added solvent or molecular hydrogen. These molecules can be used as biodegradable detergents. Coupling exothermic hydrogenolysis with endothermic aromatization renders the overall process thermodynamically accessible despite the moderate reaction temperature. The UCSB upcycling process demonstrates how waste polyolefins can be a viable feedstock for the generation of useful and value-added molecules.
Mahdi M. Abu-Omar holds the Mellichamp Chair in Green Chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). His research accomplishments include selective conversion of biomass lignin to biophenols and the creation of renewable plastics based on lignin. He has authored/co-authored nearly 200 original research articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals, mentored more than 40 Ph.D. students, and held faculty appointments at Purdue University and UCLA. Mahdi is the Founder of Spero Renewables, a clean tech company that provides cost-effective and renewable substitutes to petrochemicals (sperorenewables.com/). Mahdi was elected Fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2012. Dr. Abu-Omar completed a Ph.D. from Iowa State University (1996) and a postdoc from Caltech.