Plastic reborn

Confident in its capabilities to change the future of plastic recycling, Recycling Technologies is well on the way towards building its first 12 machines that convert ‘end of life’ plastic into a valuable oil

Did you know that only ten per cent of the plastic packaging that is produced globally is recycled? It is Adrian Griffiths, CEO of Recycling Technologies, who cites this finding from an Ellen MacArthur Foundation report. Established in 2011, his company is bidding to revolutionise the way plastic is being recycled.“Plastic is a fantastic material until it reaches the end of its life,” Adrian maintains.“The problem is that the remaining 90 per cent of plastic packaging that does not get recycled, ends up in landfills, is incinerated, or lost in the environment, including our oceans.There is a pressing need to build plastic recycling capacity in the system, due to the demand for plastics growing exponentially, and this is where Recycling Technology steps in.”

The technology grew out of work originally done in the University of Warwick. Seeing its enormous potential, Adrian gathered some of the best engineering and management talents to develop a machine for sale to waste operators around the world that allows ‘end of life’ plastic to be chemically recycled in a commercially attractive way.

Combining university research with in-house expertise, and backed by government funding and private investment, Recycling Technologies succeeded in developing the technology from a laboratory-scale unit to its current beta plant in Swindon.“The beta is the prototype for the commercial recycling machine – the RT7000, which will be mass produced and shipped around the world, allowing for the quick and profitable addition of extra capacity into the plastics recycling systems,” Adrian continues. “Each RT7000 processes 7000 tonnes of plastic waste per annum and our aim is to scale to manufacturing 200 machines a year, adding 1.4 million tonnes of recycling capacity into the system every year.” Currently, Plastics Recyclers Europe reports a capacity of only three million tonnes within the continent, so Recycling Technologies has an excellent chance to significantly expand that figure, which has become an especially important task in itself, given China’s ban on plastic waste imports.

Due to the chemical nature of the recycling process, the RT7000 can accept previously ‘unrecyclable’ plastic, such as films, crisp packets, food pouches, or coloured plastics, and convert it into a valuable oil called Plaxx®, for use in wax blending and as a chemical feedstock in the production of new plastic. Chemical recycling is highly complementary to mechanical recycling, which principally recycles clear PET drink bottles and neutral HDPE milk bottles. Plastic waste that is the residue from mechanical processes and anaerobic digestion facilities can be recycled chemically instead of being sent to landfill and incineration, with positive economic and environmental consequences.

The mixed plastic is shredded and dried, and then fed into the process.The RT7000 process cracks the plastic using heat in the absence of oxygen, thereby breaking the chemical bonds in the plastic to create a vapour.This is refined and distilled into Plaxx®, and the non-condensable gases are used to supply energy to the process.

One of the key characteristics of the RT7000 is that, as Brian Cattmull, Recycling Technologies’ Manufacturing Director explains,“it takes the solution to the problem.” Indeed, the machine is modular in design and transportable so that it can be easily taken to sites where plastic waste is accumulating, typically recycling centres.“It was designed using Design for Manufacture (DFM) techniques that enable it to be produced cost effectively and in volume. Each of the machine’s six modules is housed in an ISO frame allowing its efficient transportation and installation across the globe,” he sheds light on the RT7000’s specifications.“At the same time, we are using lean manufacturing methods in the design and implementation of the manufacturing process to support a scalable and productive system.”

The team at Recycling Technologies sees plastics waste as a valuable resource and is driven to develop a commercially attractive approach to recycle more plastic. Adrian discusses the benefits of the distributed approach.“Waste companies operating an RT7000 can save on the disposal costs associated with landfill, transportation, and incineration, which vary between £80 and £130 per tonne. Instead, they can turn this waste into a product, Plaxx®, which has a value of around £300 per tonne.We forecast each machine will provide its owner a payback of less than three years.There is now a growing pipeline of waste site operators interested in the RT7000, both in the UK and internationally.”

In May, the company announced a major strategic business alliance worth £50 million with global energy trader InterChem, which includes the forward sale of the polymer proportion of Plaxx® over the next five years. “Furthermore,” Adrian adds,“the wax output worth £15 million has been forward-sold to Kerax Limited, which effectively means that the output from the first 12 RT7000 machines that are to be installed in the UK and Northern Europe has already been sold.”

“The contracts with InterChem and Kerax Limited illustrate the considerable interest in the use of Plaxx® as a chemical feedstock for polymer production and as a source of synthetic waxes. Plaxx® will enable polymer producers to use a recycled material that is not derived from fossil fuels and thus support the operation of a more sustainable plastics supply chain,” Adrian contends.“The same can be said about the wax market, where sourcing wax from recycled plastic is not only a major innovation that fits in perfectly with companies’ aims to enhance environmental performance, but also offers an alternative source of raw materials when traditional supply is in sharp decline.”

Adrian comments on the decision to target Northern Europe:“The Netherlands has been chosen for its strategic importance to the petrochemical sector, its strong research institutions, and its appetite to embrace innovation in creating value from waste. Since 2010, local authorities in the Netherlands have been obliged to separately collect plastic waste, which is then sent directly to dedicated plastic waste sorting facilities.We aim to add value to this existing infrastructure, increase recycling rates and be a source of chemical feedstock to the petrochemical sector through InterChem.”

By the end of 2018, Recycling Technologies will have reached another important milestone in its short, but already illustrious history.The company is about to move to its assembly facility in Swindon and begin to build its first commercial RT7000, which is going to be installed in Perthshire, Scotland.This will be the beginning of rapid development for the company over the next ten years.The plan is to initially build, own and operate the first 12 machines.Thereafter, the company intends to sell these machines to waste site operators globally and install the RT7000 on their sites.Within a decade, the company projects the installation of over 1300 machines with the capacity to recycle 10Mt of plastic waste, quadrupling the EU’s current capacity.

“We imagine a world, where an RT7000 is located near every town, city, and river to convert its plastic waste ‘liability’ into a valuable resource.This will remove the drivers that currently result in dumping plastic into the rivers and the oceans of our world. I am convinced that you can help solve the problem in the oceans, by making waste plastic valuable on land,” he concludes.

Recycling Technologies
Services: Recycling plastic and converting it into a low sulphur hydrocarbon