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Argonne National Laboratory


Argonne Impacts State by State

Argonne’s collaborations in Iowa and across the United States have led to groundbreaking discoveries and development of new technologies that help meet the nation’s needs for sustainable energy, economic prosperity, and security.

Ames lab in Iowa partners with Argonne, uncovers new way to upcycle plastics

The catalyst of platinum nanoparticle/perovskite nanocuboid transforms discarded plastics into a higher value product (for example, motor oil). (Image by Argonne National Laboratory.)

A multi-institutional team that includes the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory, the DOE’s Ames Laboratory, and Northwestern University has identified what promises to be a groundbreaking solution to plastics recycling.

Plastics are essential to everyday life, but the accumulation of waste plastic is a mounting issue that threatens the environment. While some waste plastic does get recycled, the resulting product is generally of lower quality and value; the team’s method converts plastics into higher-quality products.

Many plastics don’t degrade easily because of their strong carbon-carbon bonds. To deconstruct those bonds, the team used a catalyst consisting of platinum nanoparticles, depositing nanoparticles onto the plastic.

The study, described in the journals ACS Central Science and Nature Catalysis, describes how the method converts waste plastics into higher-quality products, such as lubricant oils or waxes. In turn, the waxes can be processed into everyday products like detergents and cosmetics.

While the catalyst still needs further development, results look promising.

Other collaborators include Cornell University; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of South Carolina.

Iowa corn producers benefit from Argonne research

Scientists at Argonne have examined how removing corn stover (pictured) might affect soil organic carbon and soil health. (image by Ivaylo Velikov / Shutterstock.)

Corn stover — those parts of a corn plant that remain in a field after the corn grain is harvested — is an important source of organic matter and plant nutrients and, as such, farmers typically return it to the soil after the spring thaw. Increasingly, however, corn stover is being seen as a promising feedstock for bioenergy: a fact of particular interest to Iowa’s farmers who, for the past 25 years, have led the United States in corn production.

Argonne led a pioneering collaboration of researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and universities to study whether removing corn stover would affect soil organic carbon (SOC) and soil health. They screened over 3,300 papers published between 1990 and 2018 to quantify the overall response of soil carbon to stover removal and to identify key drivers that can help with maintaining soil health.

Collecting and analyzing 409 data points from 74 stover harvest experiments sites worldwide, the team discovered that careful stover removal could maintain or even marginally increase SOC stock, while making corn stover a significant bioenergy feedstock.