LyondellBasell has needed only two years to take an innovative new molecular recycling technology live.
In July 2018, the company announced it was launching a collaboration with Karlsruhe Institute of technology to support its research efforts into the development of a proprietary new recycling technology.
The collaboration first proved the efficiency of the new molecular recycling technology, known as MoReTec, at laboratory scale, showing that use of a catalyst in the pyrolysis process, or the structural breakdown of plastic waste into molecules, was faster and more energy efficient than traditional chemical recycling, in which no catalyst is used.
By October 2019, the company had announced its plans for constructing a pilot plant based on the technology at its Ferrara, Italy, site, where it would convert typically difficult to recycle plastic waste such as multi-layer films, back into their molecular state for use as new feedstock, virgin-like feedstock.
Now, the company has now announced that this pilot plant has been successfully started up.
"With our advanced plastics recycling technology, we return larger volumes of plastic waste back into the value chain and produce new materials for high-quality applications, retaining their value for as long as possible,” said Jim Seward, LyondellBasell Senior Vice President of Research & Development (R&D), Technology and Sustainability.
The feedstock resulting from the new MoReTec technology can be used to produce new plastic materials that are able to meet the strict regulatory requirements applying for food packaging and healthcare applications.
The pilot plant is capable of processing between 5 and 10 kilograms (kg) of household plastic waste per hour. It will also provide insights into the interaction of various waste types in the molecular recycling process. The company will also be testing the various catalysts, as well as confirming the process temperature and time needed to decompose the plastic waste into molecules.
The goal is to have this completed over the next couple of years and then plan for an industrial scale unit. LyondellBasell has research and development teams in Germany, Italy and United States actively working to explore potential commercial-scale applications.
Is there a timeline for when the company hopes to build such an industrial scale unit? According to Seward, the company is moving through a ‘gated process towards industrialisation’.
“We have now moved to the pilot phase and aim to demonstrate the design concept is effective at large scale over the next few years. Once achieved, we will move quickly into the next phase of industrial scale. We have not yet defined location and are weighing up such factors as proximity to both market and to adequate supply of waste, which will of course be our raw material,” he clarified.
The development of molecular recycling is just one of the three ways LyondellBasell is advancing sustainable solutions as it relates to plastic waste. LyondellBasell is also actively involved in mechanical recycling through its Quality Circular Polymers joint venture with SUEZ. QCP uses a mechanical recycling process to produce plastic pellets from packaging waste which are marketed by LyondellBasell.
Additionally, LyondellBasell has produced new bioplastics from 100% renewable raw materials such as cooking and vegetable oil waste, which can be used in applications such as food packaging, toys and furniture. These products, marketed under the Circulen and Circulen plus brands, meet all regulatory requirements for purity and offer the same high-quality properties as virgin plastics.