Catalytic upcycling of polyolefins into fatty alcohols and fatty acids

ISURF #05189 describes the conversion of waste polyolefins into fatty alcohols or fatty acids by early metal or lanthanide-catalyzed chain cleavage. The alcohols or acids derived by this method are high value and useful as surfactants, detergent agents, or lubricants.

The catalyst supports a pseudo reverse-polymerization reaction, proceeding via a C-H bond activation and B-alkyl elimination for carbon-carbon bond cleavage in a solvent free reaction. This type of reaction, while well-known has never been applied to high molecular weight materials before. Typical high carbon number acids are prohibitively expensive because their synthesis tends to be from the “ground up” and it is hard to achieve larger than C18 molecules in this fashion. Other deconstruction methods that would yield acids, such as pyrolysis tend to require difficult separation. ISURF #05189 yields very few, easily separable molecules of high value with chain lengths C20 or greater. Depending on temperature and specific ligands, different chain-lengths and functionalizations are achievable in high yields.


  • Recycles polymers to yield higher value chemicals
  • Fatty alcohols and fatty acids are commonly used for cleaning, emulsifying, wetting, and scouring
  • Turns waste into economically valuable product

Converts waste (polyolefins) into fatty alcohols or fatty acids, which can be used for cleaning, emulsifying, wetting, or scouring

Patent(s) applied for

This technology is related to ISURF 5082: Pore-encapsulated catalysts for selective hydrogenolysis of plastic


Development Stage:


Contact Information

TTO Home Page:

Name: Jack Hartwigsen

Title: Technology Marketing Manager

Department: Iowa State Research Foundation


Phone: 515-294-4740