Circular Economy Molecular Recycling is the Need of the Hour
Lyondell Basell's proprietary Moretec molecular recycling technology is based on chemical recycling but it also includes a catalyst-based approach. The technology aims to return post-consumer plastic waste back to its molecular form and use it as feedstock for the production of new plastic materials. Currently, the company has set up a pilot plant in Italy to advance its technology towards commercial scale.
Everyone knows that plastic is harmful for the environment. According to the Plastic Ocean Foundation, it is estimated that around 50 % of plastic is used just once and thrown away. It adds that we are producing over 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, 50 % of which is for single-use purposes – utilised for just a few moments, but on the planet for at least several hundred years. More than 8 million tonnes of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year!
This grim reality along with rising awareness on climate change has led companies to innovate and explore potential technologies that aim at creating a circular economy. One such example is Lyondell Basell.
Jim Seward, Senior Vice President – R&D, Technology and Sustainability, Lyondell Basell states, “Ending plastic waste is one of the critical issues of our time. We believe that transitioning to a Circular Economy where materials are recycled and reused will reduce the amount of plastic waste in the environment and enable a more sustainable future.”
Molecular Recycling Technology
Lyondell Basell’s proprietary Moretec molecular recycling technology is capable of converting used plastic waste into feedstock for new plastic materials. Seward explains, “This recycling technology uses a proprietary catalyst-based approach in the pyrolysis process that converts mixed plastic waste into feedstock for the production of new plastics.”
These new plastics can be used for food packaging and medical applications which require strict regulatory compliance. He adds that the proprietary catalyst, when combined with the right process, would steer the reaction towards more controlled conditions allowing for lower energy demand and better product quality control.
Molecular Recycling v/s Mechanical Recycling
The Moretec molecular recycling technology is expected to convert lower-value residual and mixed plastic waste, including multilayer films and hybrid plastics articles, as compared to mechanical recycling which can convert higher-value pre-sorted plastic waste. However, unlike mechanical recycling, molecular recycling can be used in highly regulated applications.
Scalable Process Solution
Lyondell Basell has also partnered with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Germany to advance its molecular recycling technology into a scalable process solution. “A key challenge is to find a catalyst for the depolymerisation of plastic waste that achieves high yield, while being stable under demanding process conditions,” opines Seward. “The different mixes of plastic in the post-consumer waste will also have an effect on the molecular recycling process. More work needs to be done on this in order to understand this interaction.”
Hence, Lyondell Basell recently started-up its new pilot plant in Ferrara, Italy to understand the interaction of various waste types in the molecular recycling process, test the various catalysts, and confirm the process temperature and time needed to decompose the plastic waste into molecules under pilot conditions in order to further improve the process technology. The new facility is capable of processing 5 – 10 kilograms of household plastic waste per hour.
Once the company advances its Moretec technology into a scalable process solution, Seward mentions; “We will pave the way for a semi-industrial proof-of-concept plant in the coming years.”
With this project, Lyondell Basell aims to achieve a true circular economy which will certainly reduce plastic pollution on our planet.