How Industry Tackles Plastics Plague

Developments aim to turn vast amounts of discarded material into feedstocks

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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“The feedstock used in the ReOil process should contain only small amounts of polymers such as PVC [polyvinyl chloride] and PET [polyethylene terephthalate]. PET plastic contains oxygen molecules and is thereby only partially suitable (in very low proportions) for the ReOil process. The ideal feedstock contains common packaging materials PE, PP and PS, from household items such as yoghurt pots, shampoo bottles, plastic bags, plastic cups, lids from takeaway coffee, carton packaging, filling material, bubble wrap and confectionery packaging,” Gangl explains.

OMV has invested around €10 million ($11.4 million) in the project so far, with the Austrian Research Promotion Agency subsidizing 10% of these costs.

Crude Oil Replacement

Last July, Neste, Espoo, Finland, announced plans to use liquefied waste plastic in a development project. The company is aiming for an industrial-scale trial this year and eventually to process more than 1 million mt/yr of plastic waste by 2030.

“To reach this target, development of processing technologies, supply chains, markets and regulation is still needed. Neste is actively working to accelerate development and make sure using waste plastic as a raw material becomes a viable alternative from technical, financial, sustainability as well as regulation standpoint,” says Heikki Färkkilä, vice president, oil products development.

As part of this strategy, Neste is involved with Licella, Sydney, Australia, and ReNew ELP, Redcar, U.K. For over a decade, Licella has been developing a hydrothermal upgrading platform called the catalytic hydrothermal reactor (Cat-HTR). This can transform a wide range of products — including waste plastic — into a biocrude suitable for producing biofuels and chemicals. (See: “Is Supercritical Water The Green Future of Chemical Processing.”) ReNew ELP, which has licensed the technology, currently is investing in a 120,000-t/yr plant at its Redcar site — the first commercial application of Cat-HTR technology.

However, Neste is more interested in the refinery processing of its liquefied waste plastic products than the liquefaction technology itself.

“Our intent here is to trial replacing crude oil — to an extent — as a refinery raw material while still producing high quality end products. We want to learn about the liquefied waste plastic oils’ processability and behavior rather than the liquefaction processes required to create them,” adds Färkkilä.

He also notes that Neste isn’t limiting its activities in this area to just the one liquefaction technology.


Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at sottewell@putman.net.

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