Transformative Recycling Solutions for Energy-Intensive Products and Materials

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The true greenhouse gas emissions impact associated with the production of energy-intensive materials is determined in part by the extent to which these materials can be cost-effectively recycled and re-used through a process that has a lower emissions footprint than that associated with the original production process for these materials (“primary” materials). For example, it takes 74% less energy to recycle steel than it does to manufacture it from ore, and for aluminum, that number is 95%. But less than half of U.S. steel production today uses recycled steel and less than 30% of U.S. aluminum production uses recycled aluminum, because today’s recycling technology makes the recycled versions of these metals nearly twice as expensive as primary metal. In the case of high-volume plastics, where recycling could save as much as 80% in processing energy over primary production, the situation is even more challenging. Over 16 billion tons of high-density polyethylene, for example, is produced every year in the U.S. alone. However, because we currently do not have cost-effective recycling technologies available, recycling rates for polyethylene today are only about 10%. Accordingly, there exists significant opportunity for greenhouse gas emissions reductions in the industrial sector through the development of transformative new recycling technologies.