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Issue 06/2022

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Highlights: Films / Flexibles / Bags Consumer Electronics Basics: Chemical Recycling K'2022 review

Events Advanced

Events Advanced Recycling Conference Review The first Advanced Recycling Conference organised by the nova-institute in Cologne was by all measures a full success. The two-day hybrid conference on the 14 th and 15 th of November had 224 participants from 21 countries, 150 of them were in the room, 34 speakers spread over 8 different sections, 9 exhibitors, and a wide range of topics in and around advanced recycling. It was an event of open exchange and active discussion of ideas and technological approaches probably best shown by the question-andanswer sessions which were very much alive with more questions than time to answer them in every single session – or as Michael Carus, who spearheads the Renewable Carbon Initiative within the nova-institute (Hürth, Germany), said it “you are the best audience we ever had at a conference” with almost 60 questions from participants for the very first session of the conference alone! This might already show that it will be impossible to fully encapsulate every aspect of the conference in this review so instead of even attempting that this review will focus on the key points of discussion that crystalized both on and off stage of the event. Complementary technologies and the question of feedstock scarcity There was nary a presentation that did not mention at least once that advanced recycling and mechanical recycling can and will coexist, and that they are complementary technologies that will both be necessary for the future. Yet, some voices in the audience seemed to remain doubtful. As both industry sectors, mechanical and advanced recycling, are likely to grow in the future securing enough feedstock may be an issue. On the one hand, the current systems in place have a fixed amount of waste that goes to recyclers, and mechanical recyclers are, perhaps unreasonably, nervous about the availability of that feedstock if new competition in form of advanced recycling will rapidly grow in the near future. On the other hand, the current infrastructure is not sufficient or even non-existing in some parts of Europe to provide the feedstock that will be needed to fulfil EU quotas of recycled content in the future – this could be seen as a challenge that might pit the two technologies against each other in a fight for waste or be an opportunity to build / expand this part of the industry. One of the numbers quoted in this context was that 50 % of waste is not even sorted at the moment and goes straight to incineration or worse – landfill. Another interesting suggestion came from the audience: landfills as future source of (waste) material – this would effectively turn an outdated End-of-Life solution into a new resource provider. However, it quickly became clear that such considerations are very much “future talk” as so far nobody has considered such a business model in any serious way or form. One clear message that echoed through the presentations was that “if you can recycle it mechanically, you should recycle it mechanically” and that advanced recycling technologies are aimed at the part of the waste stream that so far is not recycled because it cannot (easily) be recycled mechanically. The point being that mechanical recycling is both easier and more sustainable (GHG, energy efficiency, etc.). Other ideas focus on the combination of the two, not talking in “either ors”, but rather in “first mechanical, then advanced recycling” Mathieus Berthoud from Carbios (Saint-Beauzire, France), for example, pointed out that their enzymatic recycling process uses (low value) plastic flakes to then turn them into food grade virgin like material – their process is therefore by definition a step after mechanical recycling and thus dependent on it, rather than replacing it. Here, as well as in many other presentations, it was pointed out that the technology aims to reintroduce material back into the value chain at top quality. Which leads to the next topic. What goes in, what goes out? Quality matters! Staying with the example of food grade materials – they can probably be considered the golden standard for material purity and cleanness, and being able to transform low-quality material into food grade material might be one of the best examples of upcycling. And there were a couple of companies talking about food grade, Solenne Brouard Gaillot, Founder and CGO of Polystyvert (Montreal, Canada), presented their technology that “can treat any kind of feedstock” and turn it into food grade material with a yield of 95 % at industrial scale and all of that in a cost-efficient manner. “We all want to save the planet, but to do this (realistically) you need a 12 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/22] Vol. 17

By Alex Thielen Events profitable process”, Solenne pointed out. Another noteworthy technology in this regard was TruStyrenyx developed by Agilyx (Portsmouth, NH,USA) in cooperation with Technip Energies (Nanterre, France), Carsten Larsen from Agilyx mentioned, almost in passing, that this technology can turn highly contaminated polystyrene from e.g. the construction sector into food grade material. mentioned a planned joint venture for a liquefaction plant and Bart Suijkerbuijk from Shell (London, UK) admitted with a smile that “not even Shell can do it alone”. Yet, it is not all brotherhood and kumbaya – one comment from the audience welcomed the idea of cooperation but mentioned that they experienced “first-hand unwillingness (to cooperate) across the industry”, saying that “we block our own progress by But quality was a big topic overall, going far beyond just food grade materials. The question about quality goes much further than just what you get out of a process and is also very heavily focused on what you throw into a process. And here a fundamental challenge, and potentially a future paradigm shift crystalised: the value of waste. Tom Hesselink from KPMG (Amstelveen, the Netherlands) was one of the first to present the perhaps harsh reality of the current recycling system. For a truly circular economy, the goal of recycling should in general be to recycle product-to-product – the same product. Tom called this onpar recycling which is currently only done with 2–3 % in Europe, and for Tom the reason for this was quite clear, “the current system does not value quality”, he stated rather matter of factly. Yet, with recycling quotas in effect and more on the horizon, this is likely to change – the quality of the feedstock matters. While some technologies like Polystyvert “can treat any feedstock” this does not hold true for every material and there are a whole lot of different materials. While most technologies can handle some contamination of their feedstock it does have an impact on either the yield or the quality of the end product, and there are limits to this. The solution to this probably lies a step before the actual recycling – sorting. Virginie Bussières from Pyrowave (Montreal, Canada) made exactly this point, that better sorting will be necessary in the future. “Sorting upstream has more impact than sorting downstream – this way the whole value chain can have an impact”, so Virginie. What is clear is that there is still much to work on and improve – but how will this work in practice? Cooperation, cooperation, cooperation The topic of cooperation and working together was probably mentioned almost as often as complementary technologies. And as if to drive home the point, the first two presentations were collaborations between two companies each. Plastic Energy (London, UK) presented with DSD – Duales System (Cologne, Germany) and Eastman (Kingsport, TN, USA) presented with Interzero (Cologne, Germany), the former both involved in the recycling process and the latter in the sorting of waste. Maiju Helin from Neste (Espoo, Finland) also First Question & Answer session of the conference (Photos: nova Institut) hanging on to secrecy” and inflexibility in matters of price, asking “how can we break this vicious cycle?” Things do seem to change and move in the right direction, but only time will tell if this change – from a rather rigid every man for himself system towards a time of building bridges and working together – will happen quickly enough, for both recycling quotas and the climate. There is still much to do, but also much to gain. Challenges and opportunities Talking about quotas, one question raised was whether recycling quotas are the right strategy or if punishing the use of virgin material would be a better solution. Here Tom Hesselink shared his point of view saying that, “penalizing virgin (material) makes recycling dependant on virgin, creating quotas creates a separate market, independent from virgin”. He went on to point out that “mandatory content requirements are the driver of the industry”, and that “without (price) premiums it will be impossible to make recycling happen” because recycling is (currently) simply more expensive. As already mentioned earlier, the issue of costs was also echoed by Solenne as she talked about the need for cost-efficient technologies. Aspects that influence the other side of the coin of costs, production capabilities, were also highly discussed. Many of these technologies are still in a phase of scale-up – some said that advanced recycling was still in its infancy. Some, perhaps long overlooked, industry veterans like Eastman (their process has been around since bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/22] Vol. 17 13

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