A new Horizon Europe project, launched 1 September 2023, aims to develop a resource-efficient way of capturing CO2 emissions from wastewater treatment plants for use in producing bio-based plastics for packaging. Funded by EU Horizon Europe with a grant of 5M€, the project will run until 31 August 2027. It is called ‘Highly Innovative technology demonstration for bio-based CO2 Capture and Utilization for production of bulk plastics applications’, or HICCUPS for short, and will focus on electrochemical conversion to achieve this. The kick-off meeting was held in Amsterdam.
The project's main objective is to demonstrate a complete value chain: from CO2 capture to the production of polymers - in this case, polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA) - for end use. Renewable and biodegradable, PLGA has excellent water and gas barrier properties and could be a replacement for fossil-based polyethylene. To demonstrate the potential of PLGA, packaging materials will be produced with PLGA film-coated paper and moulded plastic.
The consortium carrying out the project consists of 12 partners from seven different countries. Four members are responsible for the CO2 capture and purification process of the CO2 present in the biogas produced during wastewater treatment. They will build a demonstration plant at a wastewater treatment facility in Spain to study the average characteristics of the gas stream produced during the anaerobic digestion of wastewater sludge using consortium member Aqualung’s patented membrane technology. This membrane technology offers versatility and flexibility enabling highly efficient solutions for CO2 separation from various sources, including flue gas and biogas.
Dutch renewable chemistries manufacturer and project coordinator Avantium will use its one-step electrochemical conversion technology to convert CO2 into oxalic acid, followed by reduction to glycolic acid. It will subsequently polymerise this glycolic acid into the CO2-based polymer, PLGA. During this process step, Avantium will work closely with research partner VTT (Finland), who will be responsible for removing the water from the glycolic acid, enabling the dried glycolic acid to be then polymerised by Avantium.
Two other partners, WALKI (Finland) and Tecnopackaging (Spain), both producers of packaging materials, will look at different applications made from PLGA. PLGA packaging materials will be produced and tested at their industrial pilot plants. Walki will carry out both extrusion and wet coating trials on fibre substrates to produce coated paper and board samples. Moreover, the research team on bio-based and green polymers at the University of Ferrara (Italy) will conduct processability research to determine the optimal conditions for the paper coating.
Additional studies, including digital projections, life cycle analyses, biodegradability and recycling studies and a comprehensive business case analysis will be conducted by the University of Amsterdam, INRAE (France) and nova-Institute (Germany). Furthermore, nova-Institute and Avantium will also be responsible for the dissemination, communication and knowledge transfer of the project.