MURA Technology’s first site, ReNew ELP, which turns 'unrecyclable' plastics that would usually be sent to incineration or landfill into liquid hydrocarbon products, has begun commissioning.
Based at the Wilton International industrial site in Teesside, UK, the facility uses a novel approach called Hydrothermal Plastic Recycling Solution (HydroPRS) to convert waste plastics that cannot be processed via traditional mechanical means, such as flexible films and multi-material rigids, back into the chemical and oil products they were made from. These in turn can then be used as feedstocks in the manufacture of new plastics and other materials.
Mura says the recycling process takes just 30 minutes, and it works by using supercritical water – water under high pressure and high temperature – to help break down the carbon-carbon bonds in plastic.
First, the plastic is shredded and any contaminants such as grit, glass and metal are removed. The shredded plastic mix is then melted and pressurised, before supercritical steam is applied.
The mix is further heated, and plastics are broken down into liquid hydrocarbons and gas. After the conversion, energy reclaimed from depressurisation is used to drive product separation, while the recovered process gas is reused to generate the critical steam.
The end products span a range of valuable, liquid hydrocarbon products including naphtha, distillate gas oil, and heavy gas oil which is used to make chemicals, oils, speciality plastics and wax.
Vitally, new materials made from the recycled feedstock are suitable for use in food-contact packaging material. This is currently a problem area for mechanical recycling systems whose products do not meet European Food Standard Agency requirements.
Described as a "world-first” by Mura, the facility, which was awarded a £4.42m (US$5.5m) grant from Innovate UK, aims to process about 20,000 t/y of plastic waste, rising to 80,000 t/y when the site is fully complete. This will reduce CO2 output by an estimated 120,000 t/y compared to incineration. And, as there is no limit to the number of times the same material can be recycled, HydroPRS has the potential to significantly reduce single-use plastics and permanently increase material circularity in the plastics industry, the firm said.
Mura expects to deliver the first recycled hydrocarbon products from the plant to their off-take customers in early 2024.
Steve Mahon, Mura Technology's CEO, hailed the opening of the new facility as "a ground-breaking” achievement and the culmination of four years of dedication. "Our HydroPRS process is unlocking a new market for plastic waste, creating value and keeping both plastic and carbon in circularity," he said. "The technology works alongside existing mechanical recycling to ensure no plastic types are considered ‘unrecyclable' and require incineration or landfilling."
Along with the Teesside plant, the firm has a licencing agreement with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation (MCC) which is developing a 20,000 t/y HydroPRS plastics recycling facility in Japan. Mura is also eyeing potential sites in the USA and Germany, as it looks to recycle one million tonnes of plastic annually by the end of the decade.
Poor plastic waste management has become such a problem globally that around eight million tonnes of it ends up in our oceans each year. To help industry make the changes needed to curb the spread of more plastic waste, trade body Plastics Europe has recently revealed a “radical plan” to completely redesign the European plastics sector.
In its report, the organisation recommends a shift towards circular practices such as recycling, biomass-based production, and carbon capture, as well as investing in joint infrastructure for hydrogen, renewable energy, and CCS. It also calls on the EU to develop an equivalent to the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) to support climate and low-carbon programmes.
Marco ten Bruggencate, president of Plastics Europe, said the roadmap, dubbed the Plastics Transition, is an invitation to policymakers and value chain members to collaborate and progress quicker. “We’re under no illusion about the scale and the complexity of this generational task – it’s immense,” he said. “We’ve already gone through a profound cultural shift as an industry, but the political, technological, commercial revolution which needs to take place to achieve this will really make this initiative our industry’s moonshot.”
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