In a statement released earlier today, Borealis announced that, in a follow-up to the exclusive offtake agreement concluded with advanced recycler Renasci two weeks ago, it had now also acquired a 10% equity stake in the Belgium-based recycling company.
It is a strategic investment, according to Lucrèce Foufopoulos, EVP Polyolefins, Innovation & Technology at Borealis, designed to pave the way for a partnership that is multidimensional and that goes further than merely a contract to secure a feedstock supply.
“We have a technical collaboration in mind: Renasci is in the process of patenting its proprietary Smart Chain Processing (SCP) concept, and that concept fits extremely well with the Borealis cascade model,” she told Sustainable Plastics during an online interview.
That concept involves a proprietary method of maximising material recovery in order to achieve zero waste, through the processing of multiple waste streams using different recycling technologies – all under one roof. At the newly-built Renasci SCP facility in Oostende, Belgium, mixed waste – plastics, metals, and biomass – is automatically selected and sorted multiple times. After sorting, the plastic waste is first mechanically recycled, and then in a second step any remaining material is chemically recycled into circular pyrolysis oil and lighter product fractions, which are used to fuel the process. At the facility, ultimately only 5% of the original waste remains, which is used as filler in construction materials.
“Our approach to circularity - our cascade model - starts with optimising product design, first for eco-efficiency, then for re-use and finally for recycling.
Eco-efficiency refers to solutions that enable, for example, an energy transition to alternative sources, or the development of lightweighting solutions for the car industry or tackling food waste. When we talk about design for recycling, we work with our customers to help them, for example, move away from multi-material structures, towards mono-material multilayer structures that are far easier and cheaper to recycle,” she said.
“The second part - the hard-core part - is that when we recycle, we start with mechanical recycling, because that has the lowest carbon footprint. The residual waste streams we then process via chemical recycling, so further valorising residual streams which would otherwise end up being landfilled or incinerated. This means that in a cascading way, we try to minimise the carbon footprint of this process of revalorising and closing the loop of the low-end waste streams that we purchase. Renasci’s SCP concept is highly complementary with Borealis’ cascading model,” she explained.
The valorised material outputs derived from both the mechanical and chemical recycling streams are processed with Borealis Borcycle M – for mechanical- or C, which stands for chemical, recycling technology.
And while there are various regulatory aspects that remain to be clarified regarding chemical recycling and mass balance, particularly with respect as to whether these materials count as ‘recycled’ under the EU requirements for recycled content in packaging that take effect in 2025, Foufopoulos is optimistic. Policymakers are taking the time to educate themselves to ensure that all options for the lowest carbon footprint are being respected, while at the same time embracing chemical recycling technology, she noted.
The investment in Renasci provides Borealis with access to the recycler’s technology, but that works both ways, Foufopoulos confirmed. The plan is also, in the future, to build additional advanced recycling facilities based on the SCP concept. Borealis is currently studying where these can best be sited, from both an economic and environmental prospect.
“All the options have pros and cons. Choosing to locate close to the crackers, where we have our central operations, there is typically the benefit of that integrated approach as well as the economies of scale. Building closer to the waste stream, you benefit from that access as well. It’s a question at the heart of the plans that we will further develop,” she said.
The partnership with Renasci, she added, is a further advancement toward the company’s ambitions to bring circular base chemicals and polyolefins to market, and to deliver on its commitment to bring a minimum of 350 kilotons of recycled polyolefins to the market by 2025.
That goal will not be reached with this investment alone. Borealis is also making in-house investments and carrying out expansions, in addition to collaborating with other companies ‘both in terms of technology and expansion’ to achieve this, and the ‘two key legs to make that happen are collaboration and innovation & technology’, she emphasised.
“Borealis is very committed to the circularity and sustainability agenda. We were a first mover and we are not planning to slow down - quite the opposite - and we believe strongly in the power of collaboration and innovation," Foufopoulos concluded. "We are walking the talk, one step at a time.”