TotalEnergies and Plastic Energy are expanding a plastics recycling partnership to process plastics that otherwise could not be recycled. The technology in play seeks to address circular economy’s lower-than-ideal yields in secondary use for plastic.
Plastic Energy plans to build a second advanced recycling plant in Sevilla, Spain that will transform plastic waste into a feedstock called TACOIL. TotalEnergies will convert this raw material into virgin-quality polymers which can be used for food grade packaging.
“This new large-scale recycling plant will be an impactful addition to our existing portfolio of operational plants in Spain and will allow for an increase in the amount of end-of-life plastics that we can recycle in Europe,” said Carlos Monreal, founder and CEO of Plastic Energy.
Only about 9 percent of all plastic produced has been recycled. Efforts to increase yields are complicated by types of plastic, their use, recovery and the predominant method of recycling. Current recycling crushes plastic and remelts it into granulate that is used to make new products. Chemical recycling splits the polymer chains themselves.
TotalEnergies and Plastic Energy are not alone in exploring chemical recycling. Most major chemicals producers such as BASF, LyondellBasell, ExxonMobil and Sibur have either pilot projects or research and development plans in place. The technology is seen as the next wave in recycling.
The announced plant, expected to become operational in 2025, will process 33,000 tonnes of plastic waste yearly which would otherwise have been burned or landfilled. It will manufacture high quality polymers for TotalEnergies’ European units after successful experimentation with TotalEnergies’ petrochemical complex in Antwerp.
The agreement for the Seville plant comes after a 2020 venture to build a 15,000 tonne-per-year facility at TotalEnergies’ Grandpuits platform in France. That plant is expected to open in 2023. The two companies and Freepoint Eco-Systems have another agreement for a plant and feedstock supply arrangement in Texas set to launch by mid-2024.
The partnerships are an obvious step forward environmentally, as non-biodegradable plastic waste piles up and spills into oceans and waterways.
And with time, it will likely become a financial opportunity as well. Molecules in bottles, containers, packaging and other plastics are collectible in major urban areas. Those items and molecules can be recovered and transformed into plastic feedstock, without the need to spend money or time on primary resource extraction.
Projects like these will be critical to eventually gaining greater recycling yields.