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Researchers develop an efficient, low-energy method for upcycling plastic

waste into valuable molecules, creating a second life for waste plastics.


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Fan Zhang

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Yu-Hsuan Lee

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Danny Zeng

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Dr. Mahdi Abu Omar

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Jiakai Sun

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Dr. Susannah Scott


UCSB researchers have discovered a new way to transform waste plastic into valuable products using an innovative catalytic method. Compared with conventional methods that require high energy input to break down polymer chains into hydrocarbon liquids, the newly developed method converts polyethylene in a simple, on-pot process without the need for expensive hydrogen or solvent, and with little energy required. Hydrogen is formed by the process itself, and is essential to the decrease in molecular size. The result is valuable molecules formed directly from waste plastics, and ready for use in solvents, paints, lubricants, detergents, pharmaceuticals, and many other industrial and consumer products.


The Sustainable Materials and Product Design Initiative

at the University of California, Santa Barbara, conducts interdisciplinary research on the extraction and manufacturing of fuels and chemical components,

as well as their end-of-life impacts. Our researchers

create new chemical manufacturing processes and redesign existing ones, assess their potential environmental impact and economic viability,

and investigate societal and organizational

readiness to adopt these new technologies.


Our team includes chemists, chemical engineers, materials scientists, environmental scientists, and social scientists working collaboratively to improve the efficiency, reduce the environmental impacts, and accelerate the adoption of alternative sustainable materials and products.



The Sepunaru Group Joins SMPD

Assistant professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Lior Sepunaru and his research group join the SM&PD Initiative.


Strategies for Chemical Recycling Plastics

UCSB's Chair in Sustainable Catalytic Processing, Prof. Susannah Scott, presents a webinar on deatling with discarded plastic.


Energy in Cloud Computing

UCSB's Prof. Eric Massenet is quoted in the New York Times. Cloud computing is not the energy hog that had been feared.



Advancing Sustainability through Action on Plastics


UC Santa Barbara’s Sustainable Materials and Product Design Initiative is a leader in tackling the problem of plastic waste. The ASAP project (Advancing Sustainability through Action on Plastics) involves research activities to understand and reduce

the environmental impacts of these synthetic materials, in close collaboration with stakeholders. We collaborate broadly with manufacturers, recyclers, policy makers, and advocacy organizations. 

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