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Olefy announces new technology to convert plastic waste to virgin grade plastic

© ShutterstockPlastic recycling.

Olefy Technologies is being spun out of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. It will commercialise four decades worth of thermal conversion technology development, providing a potential solution to the plastics crisis.

Olefy can convert plastic waste into high-quality 70% virgin grade plastic – potentially replacing the use of new oil in the plastics process.

Currently, only 8-10% of global plastics are recycled. This transforms the landscape for plastics recycling if taken up.

With plastic waste such a global problem and consumer demand rising for recycled plastic, the technology could turn plastic into part of the circular economy.

After four decades of thermal conversion technology development, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland is spinning out and has produced a technology that can turn mixed plastic waste into 70% virgin grade plastic indefinitely and affordably.

The plastics problem

The UN has warned that the impacts of plastic production and pollution on the triple environmental crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution are a catastrophe in the making. According to UNEP exposure to plastics has a negative impact on human health, potentially affects fertility, hormonal, metabolic and neurological activity, while the open burning of plastics contributes to air pollution.

There is also a huge issue in addressing the cost of plastics recycling. There is currently a large funding gap: an estimated $600 billion of additional funding is needed to fight the plastic crisis.

Cost effective plastics recycling is critical for success

The Olefy technology is considered cost-effective in comparison to virgin plastic production as it does not require the use of naphtha, which is a traded costly feedstock oil. The high use of fossil fuels, principally naphtha, within plastics production is a major hurdle to the world weaning off fossil fuels.

With the Olefy process, it takes the same amount of ethylene or propylene based waste plastic as higher-cost naphtha to produce a ton of virgin grade plastic material. While this is not a wholly sustainable solution, it is a way to lower cost and impact in the plastics sector while ensuring the recycling of existing waste.

Compared to current methods of plastic recycling it is vastly more efficient, providing a solution for the huge amounts of landfill-bound plastic waste that cannot currently be recycled. The technology has eight patents pending.

Timo Sokka, Head of Business at Olefy, said: “All major brand owners are committed to fighting climate change, and they are responding to consumers’ growing concerns on waste accumulation by utilizing recycled materials in their products. Olefy responds perfectly to these challenges by making plastics recycling truly feasible on an industrial scale.”

New process with wider catchment

Plastic recycling is currently carried out by mechanical means. It can only deal with a small share of plastic waste and it diminishes the quality so has limited application. Furthermore, the resulting recycled plastic cannot be used in food packaging and pharma applications.

The Olefy technology uses a gasification process that breaks plastic waste into olefins. The product molecules created with the Olefy process are equal to oil-based virgin olefins, which are of pharma and food quality and the process is not ruined by contaminants in the feed. These can be removed.

The process is done is a steam cracker, which is a petrochemical plant that breaks down light hydrocarbons, such as ethane, propane, and light naphtha, to produce ethylene. If adopted, it would give steam crackers a new product market. There are 500 industrial steam cracker operations around the world.

The working Olefy pilot is successfully running at VTT Bioruukki Pilot Centre in Espoo, Finland. The company is currently discussing partnerships and negotiating with investors for scaling, business development, and licensing of the technology. The first industrial demonstration plant is expected to be operational by 2026.

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