NextChem is taking a further step in the development of its Circular District model. The company has signed a new agreement with US carbon recycling company, LanzaTech, which will allow it to offer circular ethanol technology, in addition to the circular technologies it is currently exploring in collaboration with Eni. Until now, Italy has imported all the ethanol it uses.
NextChem’s Circular District project offers a ‘virtuous decarbonisation model’, providing a viable way to transform traditional refineries into modern bio-refineries. It opens the door for a green recovery of industrial brownfield sites - petrochemical and steel plants – by helping them to become fit for a sustainable future, based on proven technologies. NextChem’s technology for chemical conversion and the production of syngas from waste is based on a partial oxidation process, followed by a purification phase that avoids air pollutants. The circular gas obtained so far can be used as-is, in steel direct reduction processes, for its reducing property, replacing natural gas or coke. The approach is a modular one that fits with the local contexts, and that could be integrated in later steps.
“NextChem aims to provide the market with technological solutions to completely replace traditional fossil-based chemistry with biochemistry and waste chemistry. We want to re-build coal chemistry, excluding coal entirely: an extremely ambitious goal, which today has become possible,” said Pierroberto Folgiero, CEO of NextChem and Maire Tecnimont.
Earlier this month, NextChem announced it would be further advancing the concept together with its partner Eni. The companies plan to construct a circular gas plant in Taranto, Italy, based on NextChem’s high-temperature gasification technology. That project is a further expansion of the partnership between the two companies, who together are working on the implementation of a waste-to-hydrogen project at Eni’s Porto Marghera bio-refinery and a waste-to-methanol plant at Livorno, both of which are currently in the engineering phase.
NextChem’s technology consists of the chemical conversion of the hydrogen and carbon in the feedstock - mixed plastic waste, which the company calls plasmix, and non-recyclable dry waste - into ‘circular gas’: hydrogen, methanol, ethanol, all of which are important chemical building blocks.
LanzaTech has developed a biological “syngas fermentation” technology, a low temperature, low pressure gas fermentation route in which ethanol is produced by bacteria. NextChem will exclusively license this technology in Italy and, on a project basis, in some foreign markets.
“We must accelerate the transition to an inclusive circular bioeconomy in harmony with our natural world,” said Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of LanzaTech. “We have to realize that waste is a choice. Everything can and should be reused, just as everything is reused in nature.”
Circular ethanol derived from this process can be blended with gasoline displacing fossil inputs with recycled carbon, lowering the fuel’s carbon footprint. Ethanol is also an important intermediate product for the production of a series of chemical components, such as ethyl acetate, a valuable solvent for car paints, which Europe has to import, and for alcohol used as a disinfectant.
“We are expanding our technology portfolio from a strategic perspective: our circular district model and our waste-to-chemicals technology platform are the answers both to the problem of reliance on foreign supplies of chemical products, and to the problem of recovery of currently non-recyclable waste fractions, and to the problem of decarbonisation,” Folgiero said.