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  • Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FLEXI-PYROCAT (Development of flexible pyrolysis-catalysis processing of waste plastics for selective production of high value products through research and innovation)

FLEXI-PYROCAT Report Summary

Project ID: 643322
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.3.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FLEXI-PYROCAT (Development of flexible pyrolysis-catalysis processing of waste plastics for selective production of high value products through research and innovation)

Reporting period: 2015-01-01 to 2016-12-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Each year approximately 26 million tonnes of waste plastics are generated in the European Union, the majority of which is recycled or used in energy recovery processes but more than 30% is landfilled representing a waste of resource. There is also significant export of waste plastics, with a reported 3.4 million tonnes of waste plastic exported out of the EU each year.
This project aims to develop and maintain long term collaborations between Universities in the EU with China and Australia with a common goal to advance waste pyrolysis technology by introduction of novel catalysts to produce an innovative two-stage pyrolysis-catalytic process. The technology allows flexible processing of waste plastics to selectively target and produce high value products - (i) hydrogen, (ii) carbon nanotubes, (iii) chemicals or (iv) gasoline.
Depending on the type of catalyst used and the process conditions, high value products can be targeted. For example, the hydrocarbon pyrolysis products derived from the waste plastics can be steam reformed in the second stage catalytic reactor (800 °C) to produce a hydrogen rich syngas and by-product carbon nanotubes. Alternatively, solid acid catalysts can be used in the second stage catalytic reactor at temperatures of ~500 °C to produce an upgraded oil product for use as premium grade gasoline or chemicals.
The main objectives of the project are; To research and develop suitable catalysts that deliver high quality yields of (i) hydrogen (ii) carbon nanotubes (iii) chemicals or (iv) gasoline from pyrolysis-catalysis of waste plastics; Process integration of the pyrolysis technology with catalysis to deliver an innovative technology with full flexibility to alter process conditions and/or catalytic reactions to deliver the targeted high value products; Investigate scale-up from laboratory scale with process modelling and a techno-economic assessment of the whole process; The project also aims to extend the research and innovation to understand the range of biomass waste feedstocks suitable for co-processing with waste plastics.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

A comprehensive report reviewing data related to plastics production, demand and uses by sectors, concentrating on European and Chinese markets has been produced. The main sources of plastic solid waste production, technologies used to process plastic waste and factors influencing the application of these technologies were analysed. The work was presented at the 6th International Conference on Waste & Biomass Valorization, Albi, France 23-27th May 2016. Also a presentation has been placed on the WEB site (
A review of the literature on the range of catalysts used to process waste plastics with particular emphasis on the production of hydrogen, carbon nanotubes, gasoline and chemicals using catalysts has been produced. Identifies the key catalysts used to produce hydrogen and carbon nanotubes are nickel based catalysts with different supports e.g. Al2O3 and SiO2 and metal additive catalyst promoters such as Ce, Mg, Mn, Mg, Cu Fe, etc. For gasoline and aromatic chemicals production, the key catalysts used are Zeolite based catalysts, such as ZSM-5, Y-zeolite, MCM41 etc., often in mixtures and with metal promoters.
Ongoing research has investigated the combined two-stage pyrolysis – catalysis for H2 and carbon nanotubes (CNT) and the influence of the Iron:Nickel ratio in catalysts prepared at Sydney. Important results have been obtained with long 2-10 µm multi-walled CNT due to the influence of iron in the catalyst. Although yields are low the nanotubes are shown to be high quality and crystalline. Investigation of pure silica:alumina catalysts prepared at Sydney using waste tyre feedstock has however, shown high yields of CNT between 13 – 19 wt.%. Increasing steam input gives lower CNT yield (10 wt.%) but higher H2 yield.
A horizontal tube reactor has been used to process waste plastics from packaging waste which were pyrolyzed at 530-540°C using different catalysts, activated carbon, MCM-41, HZSM-5 and their mixtures. Synergistic effects were found using mixtures of different catalysts. Catalysts modified the main carbon frame of the products, with pyrolysis oil obtained over HZSM-5 catalyst contained large amounts of aromatics, while MCM-41 catalyst mainly isomerized the carbon frame.
A WEB based learning resource related to the pyrolysis and gasification of wastes plastics for the recovery of high value products has been prepared and presented aimed at high school children and teachers and the informed general public.
The three packaged learning resources contain a wealth of easily accessible information and references and are presented as ‘Open Access’ on the FLEXI-PYROCAT WEB SITE;

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The project has developed an innovative process to use stainless steel mesh which is impregnated with nickel to produce a nickel-mesh catalyst. This development is for easy collection of the carbon nanotubes in the combined two-stage combined pyrolysis-catalysis reactor system. (Published as; Yeshui Zhang, Mohamad Nahil, Chunfei Wu, Paul T. Williams. Pyrolysis-catalysis of waste plastic using a nickel-stainless steel mesh catalyst for high value carbon products. Environmental Technology (In Press) (OPEN ACCESS: DOI:
The research has been extended beyond the state-of-the-art by using carbon dioxide as a process gas for the pyrolysis process, known as 'dry reforming'. This uses a 'greenhouse gas' to increase the amount of product syngas (combined hydrogen and carbon monoxide). It was found that the addition of steam in the catalytic-dry reforming process could be used to manipulate the H2/CO molar ratio, based on the type of catalyst used and the CO2/steam feed ratio. Published as; Saad J.M., Williams P.T., Manipulating the H2/CO ratio from dry reforming of simulated mixed waste plastics by the addition of steam. Fuel Processing Technology, 156, 331–338, 2017.Open Access: DOI:
Combined work by the consortium members has produced carbon nanotubes from waste plastics and then incorporated the collected carbon nanotubes into composite material which was tested and shown to deliver superior strength characteristics. This is a major outcome of the project, beyond the state of the art, demonstrating the viability of the process of carbon nanotube production alongside the production of hydrogen for the treatment of waste plastics. The research was published in the journal Process, Safety & Environmental Protection (103 (2016): 107-114) which is the Official Journal of the European Federation of Chemical Engineering. The work was and was featured by the Institution of Chemical Engineers monthly magazine ‘The Chemical Engineer’ (November 2016, pp21) with a circulation in excess of 40,000 copies per issue. Published as; Chunfei Wu, Mohamad A. Nahil, Norbert Miskolczi, Jun Huang, Paul T. Williams. Production and application of carbon nanotubes, as a co-product of hydrogen from the pyrolysis-catalytic reforming of waste plastics. Process Safety and Environmental Protection 103 (2016): 107-114 (Open Access: DOI Link:

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