Cross-sectoral collaboration aims to create circular value chain for polyethylene

22 February 2023 | Muriel Cozier

As the Flue2Chem project gathers pace, more companies are working together in new ways to improve their sustainability.

Neste, Borealis, and their collaborators have utilised chemically recycled cross-linked polyethylene (PEX) waste to manufacture PEX pipes, which are commonly used in plumbing and heating applications. Due to their strength and ability to withstand high temperatures, traditional recycling techniques are typically ineffective for these products.

A partner organisation, the recycling company Wastewise, has developed an innovative method that uses pyrolysis-based chemical recycling to liquefy industrial waste PEX, breaking down the polymer into an oil-like intermediate. This liquid material is co-processed at Neste's oil refinery in Porvoo, Finland and transformed into a ‘high-quality drop-in feedstock’, which is then used by Borealis as a raw material for its steam cracker. Subsequently, Borealis produces polyethylene that Uponor uses to create new PEX pipe systems.

The partners said that they were able to establish the value chain in little more than six months and it is traceable through ISCC PLUS certified mass-balancing.

Executive Vice President, Renewable Polymers and Chemicals at Neste, Mercedes Alonso, said: ‘It will still take time to reach large-scale operations, but this project is providing the blueprint for circular value chains for polymers via chemically recycling. It’s pushing the technology from the promise to the delivery phase. Furthermore, it shows the importance of bringing the right partners together to cooperate.’

Also using waste materials as feedstock, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Environmental & Chemical Engineering Company (MHIEC) has been contracted to build, operate and maintain a new waste-to-energy facility by Owarihokubu Waste Disposal Association. Located in Konan City, Japan, the plant will be capable of processing 194 tonnes per day of municipal solid waste and is slated to become operational in April 2028.

Valorising waste products for use as feedstocks is a key trend in industry, helping many sectors to improve their sustainability by reducing waste and reliance on fossil fuels and other virgin materials. SCI has partnered with a cross-sectoral group of companies and institutions on the Flue2Chem project, which recently received significant Innovate UK funding to develop processes for turning waste flue gases into valuable non-fossil material feedstocks in the UK.

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