Pore-encapsulated catalysts for selective hydrogenolysis of plastic

ISURF #05082 describes a catalyst and method to break down and recycle plastic, particularly polyethylene. The catalyst mimics enzymes in that it first seeks to template the polymer chain in a configuration that yields a narrow distribution of end products. Mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSN) are used as scaffolds that polyethylene chains slowly thread though. A platinum catalyst supported on the interior of the MSN cleaves the polymer chain via hydrogenolysis and converts the polymer to low molecular weight hydrocarbons with a narrow distribution of chain length.

A typical issue with polyethylene recycling is that it is difficult for the recycled material to be as high of quality as the parent. The diminished quality is a result of unwanted side reactions that can occur during the recycling processes, such as conformational changes, chain breaking and cross-linking. Deconstructing polymers to useful lower molecular weight constituents present the same challenge of unwanted side reactions or broad distribution of the lower molecular weight constituents. Most synthetic materials are structurally uniform and their breakdown into low molecular weight products require a narrow distribution to be commercially useful. Still there is a desire and driving force to being able to break down plastics to obtain a more sustainable future. ISURF #05082 addresses this challenge by limiting the conformational freedom of the polymers when hydrogenating and as such is able to obtain a narrow distribution of materials.


  • Improved and more uniform quality hydrocarbon products from recycled plastics
  • More sustainable method of plastic recycling
  • Conserves economic value of plastics


Breaking down of waste polyethylene into value-added compounds

Patent(s) applied for

This technology is related to ISURF 5189: Catalytic upcycling of polyolefins into fatty alcohols and fatty acids


Development Stage:



Contact Information

TTO Home Page: http://isurftech.technologypublisher.com

Name: Jack Hartwigsen

Title: Technology Marketing Manager

Department: Iowa State Research Foundation

Email: jackh1@iastate.edu

Phone: 515-294-4740