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Chemical Recycling for the New Plastic Economy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CRNPE (Chemical Recycling for the New Plastic Economy)

Reporting period: 2017-10-12 to 2018-10-11

RT’s innovation strategy is to begin with the cleaner MPW that the RT7000 is capable of processing, and move down the chain of MPW with higher levels of contamination. This allows us to commercialise the technology whilst developing an advanced version of the RT7000. The complexity of the process is proportional to the level of contamination in the plastic waste processed. Currently, the RT7000 has been designed to process MPW that has low levels of contamination. As the technology further develops, our capability to process a higher level of contamination will increase opening up markets 2-3 times bigger than the current market. In addition to this, it will increase the profitability for the technology as more contaminated the plastic is, the higher is its disposal costs to waste producers.
The success of this project underpins RT’s vision - to establish a commercially attractive process that will ultimately eliminate landfilling and the leakage of plastics into the oceans. By increasing the scope of the RT7000, and discovering the science behind the clean-up of hydrocarbon product, this will open new market opportunities since the process will not be limited to such a clean specification of MPW feedstock. It will enable RT to be proactive in their future business strategy and lead the market. The process will be able to deal with waste materials from packaging in their entirety, and eventually expand to opportunities in other sectors such as black non-packaging and black bag plastic waste, where there are higher levels of contamination.
In relation to this original objective, the project successfully delivered a clear route for a more integrated solution in the machine RT-7000 to remove contaminants in the product as we feed more and more complex plastic waste. The work started with a clear definition on the contaminants and their effect on the product quality in chemical recycling and RT’s process. This allowed the problem to be defined and lined up potential solutions with the business objective: keep the quality product unchanged as the complexity of the plastic waste to be processed increases. The proposal for a cleaning system considered the filtration system and the generation of a technological map involving different alternatives alongside the RT process. The potential scenarios and proposals for experimentation and development have been reported. The main focus was removal of the halides that are anticipated to be found in the final product.
A wider vision considering additional modules for cleaning the product, the optimisation of the fluidised bed reactor performance, chemical treatments after reactor and, the possible combination of them was proposed. This will provide a higher flexibility and robustness in the machine if the complexity of the plastic waste is increased. The ideas were discussed and submitted to a decision-making process with technical and commercial personnel in the company. Once they were approved, a set of experimental plans and more detailed tasks were executed. The major interest was the development of the concept and to update the technological road map on these scenarios for the integrated cleaning system. Some experimentation was carried out at lab and pilot scale and the rest were described for its continuity after the project was completed.
The research and effort carried out by the associate were in line with the objectives of the project. The idea was to develop a solution to remove contaminants for RT7000 machine and provide a more robust model able to process more complex plastics. Although it was aimed to develop a more advanced filtration system alongside the project, the research studied the case more in-depth and provided a more integrated solution that considered different scenarios and options. The company is satisfied with the updated technology road map and the clear route of how to complete the proposals. Likewise, efforts carried out in the research planning, experimentation, analytical method development.
Thanks to the core training program on Industrial Innovation Management the conceptualisation, the integration of the technical team, the use of experts from technical and commercial sides allowed tangible results to be achieved. It also allowed a decision-making process that prioritises the potential solutions to be developed at short and medium term by the company. This remains valid in the company 2 years after the completion of this project. The results and the impact of the research are being exploited according to the plan. We have initiated our internal lab scale program and currently, we are setting up a on-site lab where the proposals from this project continue to be developed and scaled up. The team has been increased to reduce the timeline and ensure the commercial benefits at short term.
The other point was to develop the industrial research and establish a formal technology road map. This was also initiated with this project and the ideas; proposals took part of the updated technology road map. Meeting are held with academic and commercial experts to revise, prioritise the technological solutions following the approach learnt from this project.
The dissemination activities were focused at two levels: Academic and Business. The associate participated in one event in London 2019 with the Royal Society of Chemistry for technical discussions on Plastic Waste Recycling. The feedback was positive.
Also, two indexed articles with acknowledges to this program were successfully accepted. Both had the associate as author and RT as company. The associate contributed to the conceptualisation, resources, supervision.
• Chlorine removal from the pyrolysis of urban polyolefinic waste in a semi-batch reactor. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering (2021).
• Understanding the dechlorination of chlorinated hydrocarbons in the pyrolysis of mixed plastics. ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering (2021).
The clean-up system will seek to optimise existing technologies to fit within the RT7000. There are many technologies on the market that are able to deal with contaminants in the product. These have generally evolved from the oil and gas and petrochemical industries, and have been proven to be effective on industrial scale (i.e. catalysts, chemical additives, mechanical separation systems, etc.). However, moving into the field of chemical recycling, the hydrocarbon streams produced from the pyrolysis of mixed plastic waste will differ in their composition from hydrocarbon streams generated from crude oil due to the variance in contaminants and chemical reactions engendered by high temperatures and reactive mixtures. It will be necessary to adapt these technologies to fit within these novel hydrocarbon streams. It is expected that by the end of the project, the contamination produced by the PVC fraction of plastic waste present in packaging waste will have a clean-up system with different options and flexibility. This will enable the technology to be tested and incorporated into the design of the RT7000 units. The design will be developed to be retrofitted into the first RT7000, and incorporated in the manufacturing of the mass-produced units. This will open up markets for wider compositions of streams of plastic packaging waste to be processed by RT7000s- which in turn will divert this waste from landfill, incineration, and ultimately, our environment.
Recycling Technologies' RT7000 process
Plastic Packaging waste flows [Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2016. The New Plastics Economy]