Sector News

Report: Chemical recycling is developing quickly, clear political framework needed to boost investment

November 13, 2020
Chemical Value Chain

Nova Institute’s new market and technology report „Chemical Recycling – Status, Trends, and Challenges” is addressed to the chemical and plastic industry, brands, technology scouts, investors, and policy makers.

The report provides deep insights into current developments in order to assert a position in the current discussion based on clear definitions and categorisations of all technologies. More than 70 companies and research institutes, which developed and offer chemical recycling technologies, are presented in the report. Each company is listed with its technologies and status, investment and cooperation partners. Additionally, the report provides an overview of waste policy in the European Union. And finally, 10 companies and research institutes were interviewed to receive first-hand information around the topic of chemical recycling.

There are existing gaps in the current life cycle of plastic products. Overall, 30 million tonnes of plastic waste are generated annually in Europe from which about 29 million tonnes are collected. The remaining one million tonnes of waste plastics per year are lost from the waste stream. Overall, 32 % of collected post-consumer plastics are recycled. The larger part of the collected plastic waste is incinerated (43 %) or landfilled (25 %) which are the least preferable options according the waste hierarchy. Besides conventional mechanical recycling and in the context of discussions on the improvement of current recycling rates, a wide spectrum of chemical recycling technologies is moving into focus.

Latest chemical recycling technologies as core technologies for recycling management and the European Green Deal?
Chemical recycling technologies are presenting innovative ways to deal with post-consumer waste. They are able to process waste streams that cannot be processed via mechanical recycling and offer a range of options that are not available in current material recycling pathways. Since these new technologies are in early development stages, developers are facing the challenge to prove their potential – in particular in regards to fundamentally changing the life cycle of plastics and increasing the amount of recycled plastics significantly. Furthermore, the technologies need to operate economically and ecological impacts needs to be evaluated which requires large-scale units.

However, aside from the early development stage, the situation on the market shows that many companies have already developed and even implemented their technologies at small scale. Chemical recycling is developing quickly due to the commitments of large-scale polymer producers. Several companies recently announced the construction of chemical recycling plants, some with the aim to be already operational in 2021. A number of these projects are based on collaborations and joint ventures, where the investment brings together technology and supply chain synergies, as for example between polymer/plastic producers and waste collectors. On the one hand, the whole sector is characterised by great dynamics, high expectations and investment interest. On the other hand, there are still great uncertainties and scepticism as to how the new technologies should be evaluated and regulated. In Europe, the chemical recycling sector is waiting for the start signal via clear political framework conditions.

What chemical recycling is about
The association Chemical Recycling Europe (CRE), defined chemical recycling “as any reprocessing technology that directly affects either the formulation of the polymeric waste or the polymer itself and converts them into chemical substances and/or products whether for the original or other purposes, excluding energy recovery” (ChemRecEurope 2020). According to this definition, chemical recycling comprises three mechanisms by which the polymer (1) is purified from plastics without changing its molecular structure, (2) is depolymerised into its monomer building blocks, which in turn can be repolymerised, and (3) is converted into chemical building blocks and can thus be used to produce new polymers. Based on these mechanisms the main chemical recycling technologies are solvent-based technologies including dissolution and solvolysis, thermochemical technologies including pyrolysis and gasification, and enzymolysis.

Main focus of the market and technology report
The market and technology report gives a deep insight into the current developments around chemical recycling and helps to take a stance on the current discussion with clear definitions and categorisations, the description of all chemical recycling technologies, the status of investments and implementations, the main actors, start-ups and the political framework in Europe. All currently known chemical recycling technologies are presented comprehensively and in detail. The report describes the suitability of available technologies for specific polymers and waste fractions as well as the implementation of already existing pilot, demonstration or even (semi-) commercial plants. It presents arguments as to which technologies can and should be accepted as recycling and counted in the recycling quotas. The report also includes guidance on which processes already have life cycle assessments (LCA) available. Finally, it discusses where experts see advantages and opportunities and where there might be disadvantages and risks of chemical recycling technologies.

At the core of the market and technology report are the chemical recycling technologies that are available on the market today or will soon be. All developments of the last years have been systematically classified and described. More than 70 companies and research institutes from Europe, North America, and Asia are presented, which developed and offer technologies for chemical recycling. Often there are already pilot and demonstration plants or even first (semi-)commercial plants. Each company, which includes a mix of both key players and start-ups, is presented with its technologies, implementation status and cooperation partners, which are mostly large chemical companies. Tables provide an overview of suppliers, technologies and co-operations. Furthermore, ten companies and research institutes were interviewed to receive first-hand information on the topic of chemical recycling. The report also covers a clarification and recommendation of existing definitions and classifications which are currently used but interpreted inconsistently. (More details on the Nova-Institue site here)

By Nova-Institute, Press Release


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