Since the recent extreme heat, drought, and forest fires in Australia, the country has been the focus of the effects of climate change on both humans and wildlife. However, the latest news from down-under shows that Aussies are also showcasing a route towards expanding the circular economy.
This is because a company called Licella Holdings Ltd has come into agreement with the bioplastic innovator BioLogiQ Inc. to utilize its breakthrough Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) for the chemical recycling of plastic waste.
While this may seem like fairly standard news when so much of the world is considering the fate of unwanted plastic, it is much more significant in a country that consumes 3.4 million tons of plastic each year yet recycles only 9% of that total.
But what is special about the technology being employed in the new cooperation is the way it uses chemical recycling to restore plastic waste to basic chemical building blocks, doing so in an economically viable way.
The result is that so much more of the value from plastic waste is recovered. As a recent report by the industry journal Plastics Today, notes, “… converting end-of-life polyethylene (PE) to liquid hydrocarbon products with the Cat-HTR process creates 80-100% more value than waste-to-energy technology, and produces 45% less carbon dioxide emissions.”
This is because of the unique technology employed in the process. As the report explains, “Unlike techniques such as pyrolysis, the Cat-HTR technology can recycle a blend of end-of-life plastics that include PP, polystyrene, soft plastics like low density PE and multilayer flexible plastic packaging, without the need to sort plastics into a single stream. This process flexibility increases the total quantity of plastic that can be recycled and therefore the process economics. The Cat-HTR process produces a high yield of oil from plastic—around 85% oil, with the balance as gas that can be recycled to power the process.”
“By pioneering a circular solution for all plastics,” says Licella’s CEO, Len Humphreys, “we can utilize the massive amount of plastic already in circulation as a resource, preventing plastic from leaking into the natural environment, reducing our need for fossil oil and significantly reducing carbon emissions.”
It is a solution that has even gained acknowledgment from the Australian PM, Scott Morrision, who informed the UN General Assembly in October 2019 that, “New technologies are coming online with the potential to recycle used plastics into valuable new plastics – creating a circular plastics economy. These include innovations like ‘bioplastics’ – compostable plastic replacements and technologies like the ‘Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor’ – an innovative Australian designed technology that converts end of life plastics into waxes, diesel and new plastics. These innovations show us a truly circular economy is not only possible, but achievable.”
Given the predicted future output of plastic products, a solution to plastic waste is greatly in need. As a recent report by the World Economic Forum observed, “Since 1964, plastics production has increased twenty-fold, reaching 311 million tonnes in 2014, the equivalent of more than 900 Empire State Buildings. Plastics production is expected to double again in 20 years and almost quadruple by 2050.”
This is where chemically recycling plastic in an economically viable manner could literally save lives.
“We believe the Cat-HTR technology has cracked the code of scalable, efficient, and economical chemical recycling,” says Brad LaPray, BioLogiQ’s CEO and founder. “This collaboration represents an investment in our future. BioLogiQ customers will know they are supporting a bioplastics company that is as seriously committed to recycling as themselves. By accelerating and supporting the commercialization of chemical recycling, BioLogiQ takes another big step in its quest to make plastics better.”
Further advances are being made elsewhere, with London-based Mura Technology working alongside BioLogiQ to bring the Cat-HTR solution to China.
However, it is in Australia with the potential for 20 or 30 more commercial-scale Cat-HTR plants, that could set the tone for the technology. With more than 3 million tonnes of plastic waste sent to landfill or burnt in the country each year, the technology’s future will depend on its success or failure in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. If the calculations are correct the challenge of plastic waste will be a little easier to solve, and who knows … it may even the Australian chemical industry a boost in feedstock.