Dow invests in Europe and US pyrolysis chain

Author: Mark Victory

2021/10/07

LONDON (ICIS)--Dow has announced several investments in the pyrolysis chain in Europe and the US, including new capacity and purification units.

The additional pyrolysis capacity will allow it to offer chemically recycled polymers to its customers from 2022.

Dow and Fuenix Ecogy Group will construct a second pyrolysis plant in Weert, the Netherlands, that will process 20,000 tonnes/year of waste plastic and feed Dow’s Terneuzen plant, also in the Netherlands. The type of waste input has not been confirmed, but based on existing practice is likely to be post-consumer mixed-waste bales containing a minimum of 90% polyolefins.

At the same time, Dow and Gunvor Petroleum Rotterdam have finalised an agreement for the purification of pyrolysis oil from plastic waste, with Gunvor supplying Dow with pyrolysis oil, which will then be purified and cracked.

Dow also said it is fast-tracking the design, engineering and construction of a market development-scale purification unit in Terneuzen, the Netherlands to add additional purification capacity.

In the US, Dow has reached a multi-year agreement with New Hope Energy in Tyler, Texas, to supply it with pyrolysis oil.

Dow also said that it has, or is on-track to receive International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) at each of its major Europe and US sites.

The pyrolysis process requires the limitation of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), moisture, metals and oxygen. This typically means pyrolysis players tend to opt for partially sorted bales and bales low in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) content, both because PET requires transesterification to achieve depolymerisation – which does not occur during pyrolysis – and because the reaction gives off oxygen.

Pyrolysis pilot plants not using mono-material waste or reprocessed material typically favour mixed-waste bales with a minimum 90% polyolefins content, as it prevents process losses and limits the cost of internal sorting.

Demand for mixed polyolefin bales is increasing, amid an ongoing shortage of mono-material high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polypropylene (PP) waste bales that is expected to last at least through the second half of 2021, and potentially throughout 2022.

As a result, mechanical polyolefin recyclers are increasingly exploring ways to extract value from mixed polyolefin bales to ensure supply and help meet ambitious sustainability targets from fast-moving consumer goods brands and increasingly from the automotive, construction and white goods sectors.

Chemical recyclers estimate that it will take at least another seven to 10 years to reach true commercial scale, and the bulk of the industry remains at pilot stage, with most prices being negotiated via tolling agreements.

As with traditional recycling methods, chemical recyclers see the ability to source sufficient high-enough quality waste volumes and increasing collection and sorting infrastructure as the key challenges to growth.

With mechanical recyclers increasingly looking at partially sorted mixed-plastic waste bales, chemical recyclers could face increased competition for material.

ICIS is currently prototyping a mixed-plastic waste bale report, covering multiple grades of mixed-plastic waste, along with wider supply and demand trends in the chemical and mechanical recycling markets. To find out more about the new report, or to receive a copy of the prototype, please contact Mark Victory at mark.victory@icis.com