The Search for the Perpetual Virgin: Plastics, that is. Olefy undertakes the crusade.

August 31, 2022 |

The news has been sizzling since last week that VTT is spinning out Olefy technology in October – with a process that can convert most of the world’s waste plastics back to usable virgin grade materials an infinite number of times, and VTT adds, “affordably”, though we are still looking for detail on the Affordably-to-USD conversion rate. We’ve been scouring around in our spare time for more detail on the technology, and we think we have the “need-to-know” now ready to share.

Before we delve into it — what about today’s title? Why Plastics? Why Virgin? Answers are: Plastics are a waste nightmare and a functional dream, time to fix the former in order to enjoy the latter. The solution lies in virginity, that is, returning the plastic to liquid form and re-making it, otherwise it is functionally flawed.  We’re shifting from the one-and-done models to a re-usable model. The search is on for the Perpetual Virgin, and Olefy’s all over it.

The NewCo

As part of the newshaul, VTT said it will spin out a company known as Olefy Technologies. Its patent-pending technology can extract over 70% virgin grade plastics and chemical raw materials components from plastic waste. The new process can be done in a single step, majorly reducing the cost of plastic recycling and making recycling a preferred option for massive amounts of landfill-bound plastic waste that current methods are unable to process.

Coming soon, not tomorrow

The working Olefy pilot is running at VTT Bioruukki Pilot Centre in Espoo, Finland. The company is currently discussing partnerships and negotiating with investors for scaling, business development, and licensing of the technology.  The first industrial demonstration operation is expected to be operational by 2026.

About the technology

Initial released material from VTT was a little circumspect about the process. We think it’s this one, a recent patent app from this May: “A method and process arrangement for producing hydrocarbons from polymer-based waste in which the polymer-based waste is gasified with steam at low temperature in a gasifier for forming a product mixture, and the temperature is C., and the product mixture is supplied from the gasifier to a recovery unit of the hydrocarbons for separating at least one hydrocarbon fraction.” It’s here:

The sad limits of mechanical recycling

Today, most plastic waste ends up in landfills.8–10% of global plastics gets recycled, primarily through mechanical recycling. It’s been a bitter pill for environmentalists, who have called for worldwide bans on plastics.

It’s not just the fault of mechanical recyclers or the public, only a limited share of plastic waste can be mechanically recycled. And, those plastics cannot be used in food packaging and pharma applications. And good news, not much sorting required by business and consumers. And VTT highlights that the plastic can be recycled an infinite number of times. We’ve set our Digest Alarm Clock for the year 2,000,002,022 to check on that.

Auld Lang Syne, thanks for the memories, naphtha?

Sez VTT: Olefy’s new technology eliminates the need for naphtha feedstock and is also able to produce enough energy for the process.  (Although, we might caution that shippers of heavy fuels needing naphtha’s viscosity might still warble “naphtha, naphtha” gently in the night). On the other hand, it’s no joke that consumer product companies have set big targets for adding recycled plastic into their products as well as packages, so there’s real demand that’s not going away any time soon. We might add that any use of waste plastic feedstock is almost bound to be cheaper than using — helping to push the bar on blending commits.

VTT is pleased, wouldn’t you be?

“Plastic waste is one of the five major global problems that VTT has strategically set itself to solve,” says Antti Vasara, CEO of VTT. “Olefy is a quantum leap in recycling that will change the way the world views plastic by making it truly circular and guiding us even faster towards carbon neutrality.”  

“One of the problems with current recycling methods is that the quality degrades every time plastic is recycled. After several rounds of mechanical recycling, the quality becomes too poor, and the plastic is no longer usable and goes to a landfill. With the Olefy recycling process, the quality of the plastic is equal to virgin grade, so it can be recycled indefinitely and materials no longer need to end up in landfills,” says Matti Nieminen, Head of Technology at Olefy. “In essence, Olefy will make it possible for plastic to be a true part of the circular economy.”

“The economic benefits of having virgin grade components from recycled materials can completely change the dynamic of global oil consumption. Olefy will significantly reduce the need to use new oil for making plastic and maybe even create a new economic incentive to clean up plastic from land and water as it becomes a valued commodity,” concludes Nieminen.

“Demand for recycled plastics is growing much faster than the supply,” says Timo Sokka, Head of Business at Olefy. “All major brand owners are committed to fighting climate change, and they are responding to consumers’ growing concerns on waste accumulation by utilizing recycled materials in their products. Olefy responds perfectly to these challenges by making plastics recycling truly feasible on an industrial scale.”  

“This technology enables direct parallel integration of the Olefy modules into existing steam cracker sites around the world to effectively produce virgin grade olefins, which are converted back to virgin grade plastics. Significantly lower capital expenditure requirements, accelerating market demand, and price premiums make these investments also very attractive for the steam cracker operators,” Sokka continues.

The Bottom Line

Well, it’s pilot stage. But the race is on between Anellotech and Olefy, we think, in the Search for the Perpetual Virgin. More on the story. 


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