Chemical Recycling Workshop: the potential of new technologies

Updated: Apr 8

The Chemical Recycling Workshop, an informative and interactive event co-organised by ECP4, Agoria, Chemical Recycling Europe, EuPC, and Suschem took place in Brussels on 16 March 2022. More than 80 participants joined the workshop and the vast majority were industry representatives. The social distance restrictions prevented the organisers from welcoming more interested parties the registrations had to be closed ahead of time. It is expected that during future events, thanks to the further lifting of the restrictions, it will be possible to welcome an even greater amount of participants. The successful event allowed the participants to interact on an extremely lively and central topic from multiple perspectives, by providing an extensive overview of the currently existing chemical recycling technologies and the bottlenecks and challenges still faced by the industry in the path towards the scale-up of fully circular solutions.

The morning session focused on the chemical recycling technologies from the European and regional perspectives. Mr. Marco Monti, who gave an overview of the Proplast project, focused on the development of new chemical, thermal and mechanical strategies for overcoming the most challenging technical issues of plastics recycling in the packaging and automotive sectors. The session continued with the input provided by Mr. Rafael Miguel (Gaiker) on LIFE – ECOTEX. The project aimed at demonstrating the closed-loop recycling of synthetic polyester textile waste from the footwear sector by proposing an innovative and eco-efficient system for the waste generated during shoe manufacturing.

Mr. Alberto Barranca Jiménez (AIMPLAS) presented the EROS and BioICEP initiatives. The EROS project focuses on circular solutions for composites (from wind power and aeronautics to the ceramics industry and transport) through successful cases of solvolysis and pyrolysis. The BioICEP project aims at developing circular solutions for the plastics industry through biological recycling. Ms. Annabel Sion (Polymèris) provided an overview of the regional pre-feasibility study on an industrial tool for chemical recycling, aimed at allowing Naphtha to be reused for the production of plastic in a closed loop.

The morning session continued with Ms. Saskia Walraedt’s (Essencia Polymatters) input, which focused on an in-depth analysis of the challenges faced by the industry in the context of the novel recycling technologies, the related legislative hurdles, and the great contribution that the new techniques can bring in the context of the main objective of making the plastics industry more circular. The circular solutions offered by Gr3n technology were the core of Mr. Maurizio Crippa's contribution, who gave a detailed presentation on the depolymerization plant and its ability to achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 impact, making the recycling process circular and profitable.

The workshop continued with a session entirely dedicated to pyrolysis, with the contribution of Mr. Daniel Odenthal (Arcus Greencycling Technologies), who provided insights on the ARCUS-technology, which recycles existing waste streams into “in-spec” pyrolysis oil for the petrochemical industry. Mr. Daniel Koepke contributed to the overview of the topic of pyrolysis through a comprehensive description of BASF’s approach to circularity, represented by the development of the ChemCycling project, in partnership with Quantafuel, Pyrum, and New Energy. The representative of Plastic Energy, a leading company in implementing chemical recycling technology, was not able to participate due to a positive covid test the day before the workshop.

Following a networking lunch, during which the participants had the opportunity to exchange views and strengthen cross-industry cooperation in the field of chemical recycling, the workshop continued with Ms. Daria Frączak’s contribution on Clariter’s Chemical Upcycling Process, which converts low-value & highly problematic plastic waste into high-quality, pure products. An overview of Covestro’s approach to circularity in the context of the polyurethane mattress foams, with a view to re-shaping the PU value chain for rigid foams into a closed-loop, was instead provided by Ms. Dorota Pawlucka. The pyrolysis session was concluded with Mr. Nicolàs Fuentes’ input, who underlined the Neste Corporation’s commitment to speeding up the transition to a circular economy by achieving the ambitious goal to process >1 Mt/a of waste plastic from 2030 onwards.

The last presentation of the day focused on the gasification process; Mr. Wouter Meuldermans (BioQuest Alliance) put the attention also on the interesting analysis of the market tendencies, its rapid technological development, and the related challenges for chemical recycling.

The second part of the workshop continued with an interactive session, in which the participants had the opportunity to exchange ideas and views on the main technical bottlenecks currently hampering the full-scale development of each chemical recycling technology and the way forward. Examples provided by the participants belonged to a variety of categories, ranging from the scale-up stage, reliability of the process to input sorting, purification, solvent recovery, and others. These different bottlenecks have been ranked for each of the four main chemical recycling technologies.

The participants were also provided with a questionnaire focusing on the macro-categories of depolymerization/solvolysis, pyrolysis, dissolution of multi-polymer systems, and gasification, which allowed them to provide their view through a ranking of the main obstacles that the chemical recycling processes face at technological, manufacturing, economic and organisational level. The diverse results gathered are evidence of the variety of impediments that the actors across the entire value chain are still facing towards the ultimate development of industrial-scale chemical recycling technologies.

These different results will be compared with the previous Strategic Innovation and Research Agenda (SIRA) and Sustainable Plastics Strategy report published in 2020, in order to update and readjust, if necessary, these documents. Based on the success of the event, a follow-up workshop will be organised during the next semester.

We have many challenges ahead of us. But if we stay determined and keep working on developing a successful way forward, we will be able to overcome all obstacles. In the context of the dialogue with the European legislator, the number one priority is to underline the importance represented by the chemical recycling technologies and their potential to foster the achievement of a fully circular economy” observed Mr. Bertrand Fillon, ECP4 President, and VP of European Affairs at CEATech.