Agilyx sees PS recycling as real ‘game changer’ - CEO

Author: Joseph Chang

2020/09/25

NEW YORK (ICIS)--Chemical recycling technology company Agilyx sees polystyrene (PS) recycling as a true game changer, changing the perception of the plastic from a circularity standpoint and making the recycled product economically viable.

“This can really be a game changer to PS. One of the reasons why there’s been so much pressure on it is because it’s been seen as an unrecyclable polymer. But the reality is that is completely wrong. It’s one of the most recyclable polymers because you can take this direct polymer-to-monomer pathway and then back to plastic again,” said Tim Stedman, CEO of Agilyx, in an interview with ICIS.

“You can take contaminated dirty low-grade PS and through our process upgrade it to food-grade PS. This is not recycling - it’s upcycling. So it has the potential to be incredibly powerful,” he added.

Agilyx is not only focused on PS, but also on turning mixed waste plastics to naphtha or fuel and chemically recycling polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) back to methyl methacrylate (MMA).

“The core conversion technology is actually the same. That’s a testament to its flexibility - not only in feedstock but also in dealing with contaminants. We can deal with significant contaminants in the feed, [including] soil or food,” said Stedman.

Agilyx also has deep knowledge of different waste feedstocks on the molecular level so that it can tailor processes to optimise yields.

MULTIPLE PROJECTS IN THE WORKS
The company has already announced multiple partnerships, with a series of projects using its pyrolysis technology starting to be built.

The latest is INEOS Styrolution and Americas Styrenics (AmSty) planning to build a PS recycling facility in Channahon, Illinois, US, with capacity for 100 tonnes/day (36,500 tonnes/year) of PS waste. Engineering design is under way and the project should start up within the next couple of years, said Stedman.

The typical conversion rate from PS waste to styrene is around 80% but the figure can be higher or lower based on the quality of the PS waste feedstock. The rate will be much higher for the Illinois plant than Agilyx’s 10 tonnes/day PS recycling plant in Tigard, Oregon, it operates through its Regenyx joint venture with AmSty, he noted.

“We try to optimise the process with our partners, depending on what they want. If they want a very high quality styrene - an ASTM standard styrene - that will dictate the nature of the feed we’ll put in, and then we’ll optimise the yield to get the best economic solution,” said Stedman.

In Europe, Agilyx’s technology will be used in an INEOS Styrolution/Trinseo PS recycling project in Wingles, France, projected to start up in mid-2023. This facility would be able to process 50 tonnes/day (18,000 tonnes/year) of PS waste.

Trinseo is also planning to build a PS recycling plant using Agilyx technology in Belgium capable of processing 17,000 tonnes/year of PS waste, with completion by H2 2022, and a possible further expansion by 2024.

In Asia, on a smaller scale, Toyo Styrene is building a PS recycling plant with Agilyx technology with capacity of 10 tonnes/day of PS waste to start up in early 2022 in Chiba, Japan.

ENABLING THE CIRCULAR ECONOMY
Agilyx sees itself as a critical enabler of the circular economy.

“You’ve got this hydrocarbon reserve sitting above ground that is available. What we’re trying to do is make it a valuable resource for a circular economy as opposed to something that just becomes a huge societal problem, whether it’s in terms of landfill or marine pollution,” said Stedman.

“It’s an exciting mission to be on, and there’s a real capability to make a substantial, dramatic change,” he added.

Certain nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) have come out against pyrolysis and chemical recycling, claiming this should not be classified as true recycling because of carbon and energy intensity, and that for plastics-to-plastics chemical recycling, there are no facilities operational at commercial scale.

Agilyx claims its pyrolysis process has a 50-70% lower greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint than virgin plastics production.

“The data will prove itself out. There will always be naysayers, but frankly, we know this is credible, it works, it reduces carbon footprint and has been proven circular. The best thing we can do is demonstrate they’re wrong by delivering on this,” said Stedman.

Agilyx’s Oregon plant is the only PS chemical recycling facility with the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC+), he noted.

“They’ve seen the real data and certified it. I’m very comfortable with the basis we’ve got for the claims, and that it is strong and sound,” said Stedman.

The CEO is also confident on the economics without the help of incentives.

“We believe that in the long run, without incentives or premiums, we can deliver economic sustainability along with environmental sustainability. We don’t need incentives and we don’t… assume an uplift on product [price],” said Stedman.

Agilyx is set to list its shares on or about 30 September on the Merkur Market, part of the Oslo Stock Exchange, in Norway. The reception has been “overwhelmingly positive” with the offering about 10 times oversubscribed, he noted.

Interview article by Joseph Chang