When plastic becomes oil again: igus invests in chemical recycling pioneer
Jen Chen | October 23, 2020
Renewable, sustainable and waste-reducing: these are the aims underpinning Cat-HTR (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) technology. It can be used to recycle plastic waste within 20 minutes. The oil obtained can be used again to make new polymer products. In order to support the circular economy of plastics, igus has now invested €4.7 million in a company that plans to start up the first commercial Cat-HTR plant.
Every year, eight million metric tons of plastic are deposited in the world’s oceans. These lost resources are worth around 80 billion US dollars. The problem: up to now, most plastic has been incinerated and only 14 per cent recycled. Plastic recycling is also an important issue for igus. In the case of classic recycling – shredding and reusing plastic – since last October igus takes a courageous step by launching its new chaingeprogram. The company takes back energy chains when the service life of a machine is over, irrespective of their manufacturer. It then regranulates the plastic and processes it again. “With the igus chainge programme, we have started to recycle the plastic of old products”, says Frank Blase, CEO of igus GmbH.
,3 The New Plastics Economy: Catalysing Action. January 2017. Ellen McArthur Foundation
Back to oil with water, high temperatures and pressure
However, mixed waste always remains worldwide. In the case of non-technical plastics, in quantities 100 to 1000 times greater. “Chemical recycling offers new solutions in this regard”, explains Blase. “In the middle of last year, I read an article about Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor technology in the German newspaper FAZ. The next day, I contacted the German inventor Professor Thomas Maschmeyer in Sydney.” Seven months later, after intensive research, igus now invests four million British pounds (=€4.7 million) in Mura Technology Limited and therefore also in construction of the first Cat-HTR plant. The patented chemical Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (abbreviated: Cat-HTR) technology was developed in 2007 and tested in a pilot plant in Australia for 10 years. With Cat-HTR technology, plastic waste that was previously impossible to recycle can be converted back into oil within 20 minutes; this is more resource-efficient than the extraction of fossil fuels from the ground.
Only water, high temperatures and pressure are used to separate the cells and join them together again. One plant alone can process 20,000 metric tons of plastic per year and reduce CO2 output by 28,180 metric tons. This corresponds to the annual consumption of 5,983 cars or the annual energy needs of 4,914 households.
Plastic recycling Cat-HTR-plant
The first commercial Cat-HTR-plant is currently being planned in Teesside, Great Britain, and construction is to start this year. Waste companies supply the waste plastic to meet their recycling goals. Oil is then obtained that can be sold as a replacement for virgin fossil oil. A total of four catalytic hydrothermal reactors are to be built in Teesside and will be able to process more than 80,000 metric tons of plastic waste every year. As a next step, Mura is planning to issue licences all over the world and build new plants. “We are committed to the achievement of a state of balance in the world of plastics with technical solutions”, says Frank Blase.
You can find out more about Cat-HTR technology in the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGx4m0KiFac