According to Plastics Europe 9.6 million tonnes of post-consumer plastic waste was disposed in European landfills in 2012. This number accounts for 38.1% of the total post-consumer plastic waste generated. Depositing plastic in landfills is a very inefficient use of resources. Though the trend in recent years has been for less landfilled plastics further action is needed to reach the EU target of eliminating plastic waste sent to landfill by 2020. Recycling reduces the amount of plastic waste sent to landfill, reduces the need for non-renewable raw materials namely petroleum and saves on energy so they represent an ecologically and economically efficient recovery route. However, conventional recycling is not possible for all types of plastic waste, such as waste containing mixed plastics, or contaminated or severely degraded plastics. There are other technologies that can potentially valorise this non-recyclable plastic waste (NRPW), such as gasification or pyrolysis for chemicals and energy production, but they may still pose environmental problems.
LIFE ECOMETHYLAL would test the valorisation of NRPW that was currently landfilled – especially heterogeneous plastic waste – using Catalytic Hydro-Gasification with Plasma (CHGP), a more environmentally friendly technology than the ones currently used. The project would recycle NRPW from the automotive, electric-electronic and packaging sectors to produce a valuable chemical agent called methylal. The market for methylal was estimated to be worth about €5.2 billion/year. It was used in various industries due to its low toxicity, low viscosity and especially its high solvent power making it a sustainable alternative to petrol-based solvents. Therefore, the project addressed two major problems: the recovery of "difficult" plastic waste and the dependency on fossil fuel-derived materials. The proposed technology, which had not previously been used for treating NRPW, would be demonstrated at a pilot plant installed in the facilities of the associated beneficiary ACTECO in Spain. The plant would operate continuously, increasing efficiency and reducing energy consumption. Another one would be built in Croatia to test its replicability potential, which should be high due to its compact and modular configuration The methylal produced would be marketed as an eco-material in various sectors (e.g. plastics, chemicals and automotive).
LIFE ECOMETHYLAL would contribute to the implementation of the Roadmap for a Resource-Efficient Europe, the Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the European directives: Packaging and Packaging Waste; Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment; End-of-Life Vehicles; Waste Framework; and Landfill of Waste.
The LIFE ECOMETHYLAL project demonstrated the valorisation of non-recyclable plastic waste (NRPW) using improved Catalytic Hydro-Gasification with Plasma (CHGP) technology. This diverts from landfill NRPW, generated by the automotive, electric-electronic and packaging sectors, to produce a valuable chemical called methylal that has many industrial applications.
Overall, the project team showed that it is possible to treat non-recyclable plastic waste through a combined gasification and synthesis process. In addition, they identified the key factors for the implementation of the technology in Spain, Croatia, and the rest of the EU. In this regard, the beneficiaries produced a set of deliverables containing valuable information to be taken into account when scaling up the technology, and overcoming the main existing barriers for its implementation.
The project team made several recommendations for future waste legislation aimed at policymakers, summarised within the project’s ‘Layman’s Report’. Moreover, the beneficiaries drew up the ‘Exploitation and Business Plan of the Catalytic Hydro-Gasification Plasma (CHGP) Process’. Currently at pilot scale, Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 6, the associated beneficiary BPP plans to install and operate an intermediate-size industrial plant as a preliminary step to scale the technology to TRL 9, co-investing with an early adopter that relies on the technology.
The main environmental benefits of the project’s technological demonstration were: i) 3 600 kg of plastic waste treated to avoid its dumping in landfills; ii) energy consumption reduced by 14 031 MWh; and iii) 1 772 tonnes of CO2 eq greenhouse gas emissions saved.
Key legal barriers to the implementation of the process are: i) failure to include references to chemical recycling in EU recycling targets; ii) lack of clarity/transparency in the differentiation between chemical recycling and energy recovery in thermal waste processes; iii) disparity in the recognition of thermal technologies in the different EU countries; and iv) lack of legislation related to the end-of-waste condition for plastic waste. The main technical barriers are: i) difficulties in handling the plant (requires more specialised personnel than chemical recycling); and ii) in homogeneous waste. Market barriers include: i) large variation in landfill prices (in some cases very low) that reduce the profitability of the process; ii) high cost and long deadlines for the registration of obtained substances (REACH legislation); iii) lack of market confidence; and iv) price variation of the products obtained using the process.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).