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Issue 07/2022 Special Edition

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Highlights: Advanced Recycling Carbon Capture & Utilisation

Feedstock The future of

Feedstock The future of Japan’s waste Global warming and plastic pollution are among the biggest challenges of our time. One strategy that tries to tackle both problems simultaneously falls into the areas of chemical recycling and renewable carbon – using waste streams as a renewable feedstock for plastic production. On the one hand, this idea would cut down on the reliance on fossil resources, which would reduce global warming by turning from a linear to a circular economy. And on the other hand, it would fight plastic pollution as waste would become a valuable resource, which puts a monetary incentive on proper waste management. One example of promising development on this front is Japan. According to their Paris Climate commitments Japan plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 % below 2013 levels by 2030 by utilizing a triple R strategy of reducing, reusing, and recycling resources. And waste management is going to play a crucial role in this. Japan’s current waste situation According to Sekisui Chemical Co. (Tokyo, Japan) around 60 million tonnes of combustible waste is generated in Japan each year (based on a report by Japan’s Ministry of the Environment), which equates to approx. 835 billion MJ. To put this in perspective, the annual amount of fossil resources used to produce plastic materials in Japan equates to 630 billion MJ of energy (which is approx. 30 million tonnes) (based on “Plastic Products, Plastic Waste and Resource Recovery” issued by the Plastic Waste Management Institute (PWMI) Japan). Currently, waste is usually either incinerated for energy recovery, or worse ends up in a landfill. The reason for that is simple, recycling these waste streams is often difficult due to the composition and quality of the waste, which can vary widely. While sorting technology for plastic waste is theoretically available, often there is not enough critical mass to make mechanical recycling a viable economic option for the different materials. However, there have been developments in recent years that could change that current status quo. Waste to chemicals – the urban oil fields In 2017 a collaboration between Sekisui Chemical and LanzaTech, (Skokie, Illinois, USA) was announced which was arguable the first step toward the future of Japanese waste management. The collaboration builds on fermentation technology that uses bacteria to transform gases into ethanol, and a variety of other chemicals, which LanzaTech developed in 2013. These engineered microbes, with a reaction speed 10 times that of native microorganisms, have the advantage of being able to achieve high-speed production adequately meeting industrial levels. Furthermore, the technology does not require any additional energy input, potentially making it a cost-competitive alternative to fossil resources. In 2014 Sekisui Chemical started to bring the technology to industrial scale with a pilot plant in cooperation with ORIX Environmental Resources Management Corporation (Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan) within the premises of its waste disposal facility in Yorii-machi, Saitama Prefecture, Japan. It took three years of continuous development to apply the technology at the sites gasification system, but the result was the successful production of ethanol from waste with extremely high production efficiency. The implementation of this technology had to overcome many hurdles as gas obtained from unsorted waste contains a lot of impurities and is not easily compatible with living microbial catalysts. Additional technologies were developed to identify and purify the approx. 400 kinds of contaminants contained in the gas, which can be monitored and regulated in real time. Ethanol has an annual market of approx. 750 million litres, but it can also be transformed into ethylene which makes up roughly 60 % of petrochemical products. By using existing chemical processes to convert ethanol into ethylene monomers and butadiene monomers, it is possible to derive organic chemical materials such as well-known commodity plastics. This means that this technology does not only function as an alternative to fossil resources but can further be a major part of a circular plastic economy. For Japan, it would also lead to increased self-sufficiency in the energy sector as ethanol fuel is currently almost entirely imported. “We must focus on using carbon for products, not power, giving carbon a second chance of life”, said LanzaTech CEO, Jennifer Holmgren. “Imagine being able to look at your trash can and know that you can lock all that waste carbon into a circular system, avoiding CO 2 emissions and maximising our precious carbon resources. That is a carbon smart future!” Expanding the scope With the foundation technology developed with LanzaTech at its back, Sekisui Chemical made the next steps in 2020. On the one hand, Sekisui Chemical established a joint venture with INCJ (Tokyo, Japan) intending to verify and commercialize said foundation technology, and on the other hand, Sekisui Chemical formed a strategic alliance with Sumitomo Chemical Company (Tokyo, Japan), to develop technology for manufacturing polyolefins from waste. Joint Venture The joint venture of Sekisui Chemical and INCJ, called Sekisui Bio Refinery, plans to start operation of their verification plant (Kuji City, Iwate, Japan) by the end of 2021. The plant will have around 10 % capacity of a standardscale waste disposal facility, which is a volume of approx. 20 tonnes/day of municipal solid waste. The produced ethanol will be made available to companies in various industries that use ethanol and are interested in assessing its quality in a variety of products and businesses. The goal of these initiatives is the full-scale commercialisation of the wasteto-ethanol technology by 2025. Strategic Alliance As mentioned above, Sekisui Chemical and Sumitomo Chemical formed a strategic alliance in 2020 with the goal of manufacturing polyolefins from waste. The first step of this technology has been already discussed at length in this article – the production of ethanol from waste by Sekisui Chemical. 34 bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/21] Vol. 16

By: Alex Thielen Sumitomo Chemical brings the other part of the equation to the table, the manufacturing of polyolefins from ethanol. Sumitomo Chemical has many years of experience in the field of petrochemicals, with its own proprietary technologies and know-how. This chemical recycling production pilot is planned to begin in 2022, with Sekisui Chemical turning waste into ethanol and Sumitomo Chemical using this ethanol as raw material for polyolefin. A full-scale market launch of this production method is expected in 2025. Sumitomo Chemical aims to create a new value chain contributing to a circular economy, by providing its customers with chemically recycled polyolefin. For this effort, Sumitomo Chemical signed a license agreement with Axens (Rueil- Malmaison, France) for their ethanol-to-ethylene technology Atol ® earlier this year. Axens’ Atol technology forms the most recent step of this circular economy project in Japan. Atol is the result of a partnership between Axens, Total (Courbevoie, France), and IFPEN (Rueil-Malmaison, France). The ethylene produced this way can replace fossil-based ethylene partially or fully in various downstream polymerization installations without requiring modifications and is therefore perfectly suited for such a large-scale project. How well these aspirations work out in practice remains to be seen, but the groundwork for a systematic change in waste management has been laid. The necessary technology to turn waste into ethanol has been developed, scaled up, and is in the process of commercialisation. The next step of upcycling has been established in the strategic alliance, which will at full roll-out enable the production of wastebased polyolefin at an industrial scale. This will not only accelerate the deployment of Japan’s circular economy, it would also represent a leapfrog towards a sustainable economy based on renewable carbon in general. | | | | | Feedstock bioplastics MAGAZINE [02/21] Vol. 16 35

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