Upcycling Polypropylene into Carbon-based Nanomaterials


Fig. 1. Scheme on invention: from polypropylene pellets to carbon-based nanomaterials with graphitic structure. Left: PP raw materials. Right: X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy of PP, graphite, and CDs from different reaction temperature. Inset: 6.5 μm * 5.25 μm image of carbon dots under dark-field scattering mode with microscopy. 

Invention Summary:

Polypropylene (PP) plastic waste is one of the most common types of plastic waste that is both thermally and chemically extremely stable – rendering them difficult to upcycle. Current methods of recycling PP usually involve thermal calcination, which requires high energy during the process. Therefore, an efficient and scalable approach to upcycle polypropylene into usable materials is still in high demand.

Rutgers researchers have invented a novel, PP upcycling method which converts PP into luminescent carbon dots (CDs) that can be used for sensors, bioimaging, displays, and inks. This novel combination method involves a pre-processing step, followed by hydrothermal treatment to convert the PP into CDs and byproducts. Compared to the reactant-PP, the product is more graphitic and exhibits (semi)conductive behavior. The method provides a generalizable and low -cost way to upcycle the plastic polymers.

Market Applications:

  • Luminescence-based sensors
  • Light sources (e.g. displays)
  • Carbon materials for water filtration
  • Battery anodes
  • Conductive inks


  • Provides a pathway for converting an abundant waste feedstock into functional nanomaterials.
  • Reduces PP waste without significantly adding pollutants to the environment.
  • Increases the reactivity of the PP pellets with pre-processing.

Intellectual Property & Development Status: Provisional patent application filed, patent pending. Available for licensing and/or research collaboration. For any business development and other collaborative partnerships contact marketingbd@research.rutgers.edu 

Patent Information:
Maricely Ramírez-Hernández
Licensing Manager
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey