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NREL Develops Tool to Calculate Benchmark Data for Sustainable Production of Plastics

Published on 2021-01-22. Author : SpecialChem

TAGS:  Green and Bioplastics   

NREL-sustainable-plastics-tools Benchmark data calculated and compiled at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) can provide a measurement—at the supply chain level—of how much energy is required and the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from the production of a variety of plastics in the United States.

Researchers developing renewable plastics and exploring new processes for plastics upcycling and recycling technologies will now be able to easily baseline their efforts to current manufacturing practices to understand if their efforts will save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Materials Flows through Industry Tool


The estimates draw from a resource developed at NREL, the Materials Flows through Industry (MFI) tool, which tracks energy and material flows throughout the manufacturing supply chain to estimate energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions.

“MFI is a publicly available tool that can be readily adapted for new technology options,” said Scott Nicholson, co-author of the study, NREL. “We’re constantly looking to add new production processes to the database. Researchers can request an MFI account and work with NREL to incorporate their own process data into the tool and calculate impacts for a proposed new supply chain.

Using the MFI tool, if a proposed manufacturing method is estimated to require more energy or produce more greenhouse gases than the status quo process, Nicholson said “a comparison of the sources and types of impacts can help us figure out what aspects of a new process could be targeted for improvement.”

Goal to Analyze Global Supply Chains


To give some context with respect to the broader industrial landscape, the polymers covered in this study represent approximately 95% of global production, a combined 360 million metric tons annually.

This MFI tool analysis reflects only U.S. consumption of plastics, considering where it is used on its own or incorporated into another material. Polyester fiber, for example, is not counted when it is used overseas to make clothes that are then imported to the United States. Future capabilities currently being developed by the MFI tool team will allow users to analyze global supply chains instead of just those based on U.S. manufacturing.

Two organizations within the Department of Energy—the Advanced Manufacturing Office and the Bioenergy Technologies Office—funded the research. The work was performed as part of the newly formed BOTTLE Consortium, which is part of the Department of Energy’s Plastics Innovation Challenge.


Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
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