Globally 359 million metric tons of plastic were produced in 2018 and Europe produced 17% of this amount. In the same year, 29.1miotons of plastic waste was generated in the EU and only a third was recycled.
While sorted and pure plastic waste can be recycled relatively well, a major problem is recycling of unsorted waste, which still holds a large share of valuable carbon feedstock but is currently either landfilled or energetically valorised, i.e., incinerated, both producing greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions instead of recovering the precious carbon feedstock contained.
Hence, there is an urgent need to develop new technologies that can not only valorise unsorted plastic but also other waste in large amounts to yield material streams that can replace fossil material streams. One promising technology to recycle unsorted heterogeneous plastic waste is pyrolysis.
While the low to medium temperature pyrolysis (400°C) produces mainly liquid oil that needs to be fed into the furnace of the steam cracker unit (at higher temperature than 900°C) to produce olefins, with our proposal, at high-temperature pyrolysis (700°C) syngas stream (light olefins rich) is fostered and could be integrated downstream the furnace of the steam cracker. However, the use of high-temperature pyrolysis for plastic waste recycling has not yet become an industrial practice since gas treatment and integration present a great challenge.
Plastics2Olefins project will address this challenge – it will design, build, and run a demonstration plant for recycling of unsorted plastic waste at Repsol’s industrial site (Spain), which will be digitalized and run on 100% renewable (electric) energy. The project estimates to reduce the lifecycle GHG emissions by 70-80% compared to incineration and existing plastics recycling processes, providing an important contribution to the EU reaching climate neutral by 2050 and set a pathway for commercialization of recycled plastic feedstock replacing fossil feedstocks.