Last week, PureCycle Technologies and the Port of Antwerp-Bruges announced that PureCycle has opted to build its first polypropylene recycling facility in Europe in the port's NextGen District. In the following interview, Wiebe Schipper, VP European Operations at PureCycle provides a few more insights into the project.
Why did you select Antwerp as the location for your first European plant?
There is a strong strategic fit with the circular and strategic aspirations of the Port of Antwerp-Bruges’ NextGen district. Furthermore, Antwerp is at the centre of gravity for our European feedstock suppliers and customers. There is a well-developed plastics-industry infrastructure in Antwerp, and we see plenty of opportunity for value chain collaboration with local partners. The port and the government of Flanders also have “welcome” teams that offer useful connections to other companies, institutions, and individuals.
How will you ensure a consistent supply of waste PP plastic?
The PureCycle process is designed to tackle many different types of PP waste; we can take material from varying sources such as carpets, PP-waste from cars, and films and flexibles that currently go to incineration, etc. We are already engaged in feedstock sourcing discussions, with multiple initiatives underway to collaborate with partners upstream in the value chain (i.e. waste collection and sorting).
Your process uses a solvent. Can you say something about what is it? Is it reusable?
We use a generic hydrocarbon solvent, which is commonly used in home cleaning supplies. Our solvent is repeatedly recovered and re-used in our purification process, which removes odors, colors and contaminants from polypropylene waste, yielding an ultrapure resin.
What do you do with the by product?
Our main by-product is a polyethylene rich stream that we intend to sell to industrial users and/or recyclers.
The process is only suitable for PP?
The PureCycle process is based on a patented invention by Procter & Gamble for which we have the license. It is specifically designed for solvent-based purification of polypropylene waste, which is one of the most-used and least-recycled plastics around the globe.
How energy intensive is the process?
For PureCycle’s flagship plant in Ironton, Ohio (USA), an initial Life Cycle Assessment data from our first ESG report indicates that our PP-recycling process uses 79% less energy than virgin PP-production. Our Antwerp project is at an early stage, but energy efficiency is a top priority for us and for the port and the NextGen district.
We are evaluating options for wind and/or solar power generation at our site and actively exploring ways to integrate and/or exchange energy and heat with neighbouring facilities.
Is the process recognised as a recycling process? In other words, does the rPP you produce count as recycled material for the EU recycling targets? Is it suitable for food contact?
Yes, we use a solvent-based, physical recycling process that transforms waste polypropylene into an Ultra-Pure Recycled (UPR) resin that can be repurposed and reused multiple times. We expect our UPR resin to count towards EU recycling targets.
In the US, we have obtained FDA letters of no objection for certain applications, and we are actively seeking to expand that list. We have started exploring the route towards EFSA-approval as well and are pleased to have received support from the consumer-brand customers in our portfolio.
The new plant is expected to have an annual capacity of 59,000 tonnes; does that mean a capacity to process 59,000 tonnes of waste or to produce 59,000 tonnes of rPP?
The first purification line in Antwerp has an expected output (i.e. Ultra-Pure Recycled resin) capacity of 59,000 tonnes per year. The input (feedstock) quantities are expected to be higher because the PP-waste will not be 100% pure.
In the future, the Antwerp plant will expand to a capacity of approximately 240,000 tonnes - how long do you think it will take to get to that point?
Indeed, the site in Antwerp allows us to scale: We have space to potentially expand to four lines.
But, while plant expansion is a possibility, we are currently focused on executing the first phase of this project.
PureCycle’s growth strategy includes a plan for rapid, parallel, global scaling; we have initiatives underway in the USA (multiple locations), Europe (Antwerp), and South Korea, with more in the pipeline.
How will the new plant be financed?
We plan to use the next 6 months to further define the financing plans for the Antwerp project and are already in active discussions with several potential partners.