Advanced recycling company ReNew ELP, based in Teesside, has won a £4.42 million (€4.9 million) grant from Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency, to build the world’s first commercial-scale plastic recycling plant using Cat-HTR technology.
ReNew ELP plans to commence construction of a plant with a recycling capacity of c. 80,000 tonnes of plastic waste annually in Q1 2021.
While pyrolysis - where plastic is broken down through being heated in a low-oxygen environment - is a commonly used model in advanced recycling, the Cat-HTR model takes a different approach.
The Cat-HTR, or Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor, upgrading platform uses supercritical water, heat and pressure to convert waste plastic considered ‘unrecyclable’ through traditional mechanical means back into the chemicals and oils from which it was made, for use in the petrochemical industry in the production of new plastic and other materials. It is also able to process food-contaminated, mixed-polymer streams without need for segregation, thus offering a complementary solution to traditional mechanical recycling. The Cat-HTR process is fast and efficient, with over 85% of the mass of plastic converted to hydrocarbon product in just 20-25 minutes.
Importantly, new materials made from ReNew ELP’s advanced recycled feedstocks are suitable for use in food-contact packaging material, a problem area for mechanical recycling systems whose products do not meet European Food Standard Agency requirements.
“This grant demonstrates we are in line with Government Policy and its drive towards achieving increased recycling targets in the UK,” said ReNew ELP Managing Director Richard Daley.
The process was developed in Australia by a company called Licella, in collaboration with the University of Sydney,originally to convert low-cost, non-edible waste biomass into a stable bio-crude oil.
iQ Renew, an Australian company formed by Licella following the award of a grant from the Australian government holds the exclusive licence for Australia and New Zealand. Outside of ANZ, the technology is being commercialised by Mura Technologies, Licella’s global joint venture with London-based Armstrong Capital.
The technology, which has been intensively tested at a pilot site in New South Wales, is said to have a better carbon footprint than other techniques. Initial independent studies have already shown that advanced recycling can reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5 tonnes for every tonne of plastic waste processed when compared to incineration. This means that the completed ReNew ELP site at Wilton will save approximately 120,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, when compared to incineration.
Moreover, the use of supercritical water means the solvent used for the process is an organic one.
Warwick Manufacturing Group, a department at the University of Warwick is a partner on the project and will be conducting detailed Life Cycle Assessments to quantify the benefits of advanced recycling across multiple environmental indicators. It will also investigate the materials that can be manufactured from the
Cat-HTR output streams, said Stuart Coles, Associate Professor of Sustainable Materials, who is leading the project in WMG.
“We will be able to link previously difficult to dispose of plastic materials to added-value products and demonstrate their potential through our characterisation and testing facilities,” he explained.
The technology provides an an alternative means for disposing of flexible and multi-layer plastic packaging, and goes hand in hand with efforts to reduce single-use plastic and helps to create a plastic-neutral society.
“By investing in these truly ground-breaking technologies we will help to drive these efforts even further, and I look forward to seeing them develop and deliver real results," said Rebecca Pow MP, Under-Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK.