Petronas Chemicals looks to convert waste plastic into feedstock

Article by Adam Duckett

PETRONAS Chemicals is investigating building a plant to turn plastic waste into virgin feedstock for use at its huge petrochemicals facility under construction in Johor, Malaysia. 

The state chemicals firm has signed an MoU with recycling company Plastic Energy, which currently operates two commercial-scale plastic processing plants in Spain. Petronas Chemicals and Plastic Energy will jointly perform a feasibility study on using the technology to divert plastic waste in Malaysia from being buried or incinerated.

Plastic Energy’s process involves collecting household plastic waste, separating out polypropylene, polystyrene, and high- and low-density polyethylene and converting it back into virgin feedstock. The company uses thermal anaerobic conversion, in which the plastics are heated in the absence of oxygen, to produce hydrocarbon vapours. The non-condensable gases are separated out and combusted for process energy, while the condensable gases are fed to distillation columns where naphtha is separated out for re-use in the production of plastic.

Depending on the outcome of their study, the pair could build a commercial-scale plant to supply feedstock to the petrochemical complex being built as part of Petronas’ US$27bn RAPID complex. The facility will have the capacity to produce 300,000 bbl/d of crude, and the integrated petrochemical complex will have a combined production capacity of 3.6m t/y. It is expected to come online later this year.

Petronas Chemicals says if it builds a plant with Plastic Energy, it will become the first petrochemicals company in South East Asia to invest in a project that converts mixed plastics into virgin quality polymer.

Petronas Chemicals has committed to the New Plastics Economy initiative launched by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation that is bringing together industry to create a circular economy for plastics, starting with packaging.

Sazali Hamzah, CEO of Petronas Chemicals, said the company has “recently established a dedicated team to pursue an active role in the implementation of the New Plastic Economy initiative in addressing the issues arising from plastics waste and provide a sustainable solution for the environmental preservation.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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