ExxonMobil Corp. said Oct. 11 it plans to build its first large-scale advanced recycling facility, targeting the end of 2022 to start operations at its Baytown, Texas, complex.
The Irving, Texas-based company said the plant would use its proprietary technology and would have initial capacity to recycle 30,000 metric tons, or 66 million pounds, of plastic waste a year.
The chemical company also said it has plans underway for additional advanced recycling facilities globally, with an annual capacity of 500,000 metric tons, or 1.1 billion pounds by 2026.
That new 1.1 billion pounds of recycling capacity, however, would be dwarfed by some recent expansions of virgin resin production the firm has made in the U.S.
In July, for example, it announced that its new joint venture plant near Corpus Christi, Texas, could start production later this year with two polyethylene resin units with nearly 3 billion pounds of annual capacity.
In Baytown, the company said trial operations have demonstrated the viability of its recycling technology. It said a smaller, temporary facility is already producing commercial volumes of recycled resins that will be marketed by year-end.
"We've proven our proprietary advanced recycling technology in Baytown, and we're scaling up operations to supply certified circular polymers by year-end," said Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Chemical Co. "Availability of reliable advanced recycling capacity will play an important role in helping address plastic waste in the environment, and we are evaluating wide-scale deployment in other locations around the world."
It said the Baytown operation would be "among North America's largest plastic waste recycling facilities" and it linked future expansion of that facility to a more favorable regulatory and policy environment.
"Operational capacity could be expanded quickly if effective policy and regulations that recognize the lifecycle benefits of advanced recycling are implemented for residential and industrial plastic waste collection and sorting systems," the company said.
Rules around advanced, or chemical recycling as it's also called, are a key part of lobbying agendas for plastics industry groups in Washington and state capitals, although environmental groups are skeptical of the technology. The Environmental Protection Agency last month opened regulatory rulemaking for the technology.
In general, advanced recycling uses various processes to break down polymers into their base components to be reassembled into new plastic, as opposed to mechanical recycling technologies like grinding and repelletizing that have been traditionally used.
ExxonMobil's plans to build approximately 1.1 billion pounds of advanced recycling capacity worldwide over the next five years includes a collaboration with Plastic Energy for a plant in France that will have 55 million pounds of capacity when it starts up in 2023.
ExxonMobil said it is assessing more potential sites in the Netherlands, the U.S. Gulf Coast, Canada and Singapore.
The firm said it has obtained certifications for its recycled polymers through the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification Plus system, which uses mass balance methodologies.
As well, it pointed to a joint venture it formed with Agilyx Corp. to develop methods of aggregating and pre-processing large volumes of plastic waste, and said it's a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste.
The recycling expansions highlighted in the Oct. 11 statement are much smaller than ExxonMobil's recently announced investments in U.S. virgin plastic capacity.
In addition to the new plant near Corpus Christi, it added more than 3 billion pounds of new polyethylene capacity between 2017 and 2019, mostly at its new facility in Mont Belvieu, Texas, and it said in 2019 it planned to add another 1 billion pounds of polypropylene capacity in Louisiana.