Waste Makes Haste – D.O.E., SABIC, TOTAL, PLASTIC ENERGY racing to recycle plastics into higher-value materials

February 1, 2021 |

Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy released the Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap and a Request for Information seeking stakeholder input on the Draft Roadmap.

Originally announced in November 2019, the Plastics Innovation Challenge is a comprehensive program to accelerate innovations in energy-efficient plastics recycling technologies. The Plastics Innovation Challenge aims to position the United States as a global leader in design and implementation of advanced plastics recycling technologies and in the manufacture of new plastics that are recyclable by design.

No kidding, this is big, just look what Saudi Arabia’s SABIC is doing

In Saudi Arabia, SABIC and Plastic Energy say they are set to start construction of world’s first commercial unit to significantly upscale production of certified circular polymers, part of the TRUCIRCLE portfolio, derived from used plastic its flagship certified circular polymers, which are made from the upcycling of mixed and used plastic. The plant is expected to have a capacity of 20,000 tons per year.

The unit will be based in Geleen, the Netherlands and is expected to become operational in the second half of 2022. The project will be realized under a 50-50 joint venture called SPEAR and is being executed with a Top Sector Energy Subsidy from the Ministry of Economic Affairs in the Netherlands. SABIC has worked together with Plastic Energy and leading customers and converters to produce and commercialize certified circular polymers since early 2019.

SABIC’s certified circular polymers are produced using Plastic Energy’s advanced recycling technology to convert low quality, mixed, and used plastic, otherwise destined for incineration or landfill, into TACOIL. The TACOIL produced in the new commercial unit will be used by SABIC in their production process as an alternative to traditional fossil materials to create new circular polymers.

The Plastic Energy backstory

Last October, Total and Plastic Energy announced the creation of a strategic partnership and the development of the first chemical recycling project in France (Total 60 %, Plastic Energy 40 %). This plant, with a capacity of 15,000 tonnes per year, will be located on the new Total platform zéro crude in Grandpuits, France. The project is expected to become operational in early 2023.

Plastic Energy has two plants currently operating in Spain, in Seville and Almeria. The Seville plant dates to 2104 and the Almeria plant was completed in 2017.

Now, back to the Plastics Innovation Challenge

The Plastics Innovation Challenge aims to make domestic processing of plastic waste economically viable and energy efficient, develop new and improved plastic materials lacking the same end-of-life concerns as incumbent materials, and ultimately reduce plastic waste accumulation. Four strategic goals define the scope:

• Deconstruction: Develop biological and chemical methods for deconstructing plastic wastes into useful chemicals.

• Upcycling: Develop technologies to upcycle waste chemical streams into higher-value products, encouraging increased recycling.

• Recycle by Design: Design new, renewable plastics and bioplastics that have the properties of today’s plastics, are easily upcycled, and can be manufactured at scale domestically.

• Scale and Deploy: Support an energy- and material-efficient domestic plastics supply chain by helping companies scale and deploy new technologies in domestic and global markets, while improving existing recycling technologies such as collection, sorting, and mechanical recycling.

The Roadmap

The Plastics Innovation Challenge Draft Roadmap identifies key research needs and opportunities for DOE-sponsored research and development, and:

• Provides an overview of the plastic waste problem, including the limits of current recycling technologies;

• Identifies the initiative’s 2030 vision, mission, strategic goals, and objectives;

• Details challenges and opportunities identified by previous DOE activities and workshops;

• Lays out key research directions;

• Delivers an outline of current DOE activities, capabilities, and coordination; and

• Describes potential near-, medium-, and long-term targets for each research area.

The Draft Roadmap also aligns the Offices of: Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Science, Fossil Energy, and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. This roadmap will guide DOE efforts to meet the Plastics Innovation Challenge 2030 goals

Comments and ideas, please

In addition to the Draft Roadmap, DOE also released an associated RFI. The purpose of this RFI is to solicit feedback from stakeholders. Responses to the RFI are due March 1, 2021.

More on the story

The Draft Roadmap is here.

Comments and responses to the Draft Roadmap, here.

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