Plastic Energy’s push to close loop on plastics wins top IChemE Award

Article by Adam Duckett

A PROCESS to chemically recycle plastic waste that cannot be mechanically recycled won IChemE’s top honour at its annual Global Awards.

Plastic Energy has developed a process it calls Thermal Anaerobic Conversion, which takes  end-of-life plastics that cannot be recycled, and converts them back into a hydrocarbon feedstock called TACOIL. This feedstock is then used to produce fresh plastics or fuel. This helps create a circular economy for mixed, contaminated and multi-layered plastics and those that cannot be mechanically recycled.

The process diverts waste plastic from landfill and incineration. It also reduces the need for crude oil production. Plastic Energy operates two plants in Spain that have been operational since 2014 and 2017. This year it agreed a partnership with Total to build it first facility in France, and is also exploring plans for new facilities with Ineos and Nestlé.

Plastic Energy won the Innovative Product and Sustainability categories, before winning the overall Outstanding Achievement in Chemical and Process Engineering Award. The winners of IChemE’s Global Awards were announced in a series of webinars held in November where finalists presented their projects and took questions from the online audience.

On being announced a winner, Plastic Energy CEO Carlos Monreal said "Thank you very much, this is much appreciated! Thank you to all the other finalists for their very interesting presentations."

Other winners across the 20 categories included GSK, which won the new Process Automation and Digitalisation Award and the Pharma Award for its new electronic batch tracker system that provides a single source of truth of automated data and analysis for its medicine supplies. The move from a manual system saw a 93% reduction in medicine batch writeoffs in the first half of 2020 and saved around £7m (US$9.5m) due to reducing inventory time, and preventing batch writeoffs.

Johnson Matthey won the Industry Project award for optimising the processing of formaldehyde technology and delivering 30% cost savings on capital expenditure. It also won the Energy Award for its Low Carbon Hydrogen process that is capable of reducing carbon emissions compared to a steam methane reforming process by up to 98%. The process is set for use in the HyNet project being developed for north west England that will produce hydrogen from reformed natural gas and use CCS to decarbonise local industry, heating and transport.

Mark McKenna, Syngas Technology Manager at Johnson Matthey, said: “I'm delighted to have received the award on behalf of the team and would like to dedicate it to all my colleagues here at JM who are playing a part in developing new hydrogen technology that will enable a cleaner, healthier future.”

Following the devastating drone strikes on Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq Plant in Saudi Arabia in 2019, its process engineers developed novel process configurations and operating regimes, and re-used the infrastructure to restore the production of 5% of the world’s crude oil production within 10 days. For this they were awarded the Oil and Gas Award.

Also new for this year was the Best Consultancy Award, which went to Engineurs for providing its clients in high carbon intensive industries with green technology to reduce carbon footprints.

IChemE President Stephen Richardson said: “Chemical engineering’s contribution to society is visible in every home, school, hospital, factory and high street worldwide. To each of our winners, your remarkable work has been recognised by your peers…for the real impact you’re making in tackling some of the huge environmental, social and economic challenges we are facing.

“Congratulations to all of our winners and thank you all for your inspiring enthusiasm, commitment and professionalism.”

For the full list of winners, visit:

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Johnson Matthey's Low Carbon Hydrogen process "is capable of reducing emissions of a steam methane reforming process by up to 98%". This has now been corrected to read "is capable of reducing carbon emissions compared to a steam methane reforming process by up to 98%.”

Article by Adam Duckett

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