INTERVIEW: Cyclyx advanced plastic waste processing project to be one of many – Agilyx CEO

Joseph Chang


NEW YORK (ICIS)–Cyclyx International’s first advanced plastic waste processing facility, to be built in Houston, Texas, US with ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell as key offtake partners, will be one of a many such projects to come, the CEO of majority shareholder Agilyx said.

“All of us and the broader consortium view is that this [will be] one of many. This can’t be a one-and-done as we’re not going achieve what we need to do [with just one]. There’s really a sense of ambition and desire to go after this,” said Tim Stedman, CEO of Agilyx, in an interview with ICIS.

Cyclyx International, a consortium which aims to build out an ecosystem to boost global plastics recycling rates from a current 10%, to 90%, is 75% owned by Agilyx and 25% by ExxonMobil.

ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell plan to invest $100m in the Houston project, to be called the Cyclyx Circularity Center, with start-up expected in 2024. The companies are funding the project through offtake agreements, and plan to take equal volumes of feedstock, noted Stedman.

The facility will have capacity to produce 150,000 tonnes/year of plastic waste feedstock tailored for both chemical and mechanical recycling with the mix skewed towards chemical recycling, he added.

The project has been upsized from the original plan of 60,000 tonnes/year of capacity with the addition of LyondellBasell as an offtake partner.

“It’s substantially larger, and the addition of LyondellBasell is just a further reinforcement of the model. This is all leveraging the city of Houston’s recycling programs and the pilots we’re running there,” said Stedman.

“It’s about pulling together the various aspects of the Cyclyx offering in a system that gives our customers the certainty regarding volume, quality and cost,” said Stedman.

“The Circularity Center is going to be a very fruitful model in terms of effectively giving our customers the right product at the right price, and at the right availability,” he added.

LyondellBasell is targeting production of 2m tonnes/year of recycled and renewable-based plastics by 2030. In the US, it is producing chemically recycled plastics through its cracker in Channelview, Texas.

ExxonMobil is building its first chemically recycled plastics project in Baytown, Texas, US, with initial  input capacity of 30,000 tonnes/year, with start-up planned by the end of 2022. Overall, the company plans to build up to 500,000 tonnes/year of such capacity by the end of 2026 across multiple sites.

Dow, a member of the Cyclyx consortium, on 17 October tripled its previous target for production of recycled and renewable plastics to 3m tonnes/year by 2030.

The challenge will be to ensure there is enough waste plastics being sourced for the facility to process by the time it starts up in 2024.

“The eternal problem of recycling is the chicken-and-egg (What comes first – waste plastic feedstock or processing capability?). But we’re placing a very significant stake in the ground with big customers – huge, credible names – who are putting their money where their mouth is, to take this material,” said Stedman.

“Then we’re also working on the sourcing side in the city of Houston, in particular, to be able to drive that availability of volume. Fundamentally, the waste is there. This is all about, how do you get it and in the right form at the right price? Clearly once that is tangible at this kind of scale and proven, the opportunity for replication is huge,” he added.

The Cyclyx facility will not only take in certain plastics but the entire spectrum. It will then process the waste into customised output streams for both mechanical and chemical recycling.

“Part of the belief that we have within Agilyx and Cyclyx and shared by our consortium members is that if you’re going to drive from 10% recycling to 90% recycling, you have to make it simple for consumers. And so having a situation where you say, well, you can throw this into this bag, but this one goes over here, and that one goes into landfill – it doesn’t work,” said Stedman.

“It’s got to be all plastics, and so we’re aiming to take all plastics into this system and city of Houston is very excited about that. And then we use technology to route the right plastic waste to the right destination,” he added.

The goal is to replicate the concept of the refinery model where you can control levers across the entire value chain to optimise production.

“If you can do that, you’re going to be in an optimised position on the cost curve and are going to be able to provide competitive advantage to the customers of that system,” said Stedman.

McKinsey estimates that advanced (chemical) recycling could satisfy 4-8% of total polymers demand by 2030 and require over $40bn in capital investment over the next decade. This would amount to 20-40m tonnes/year of recycled plastics production.

“If you just consider the volumes, then it’s got to be a lot more [than two or three more],” said Stedman, referring to a previously stated two to three additional advanced plastics processing facilities in development in the US by Cyclyx.

“We’re looking at this in terms of many hundreds of thousands, if not millions of tonnes [of plastic waste] needing to be processed. It will be at least a few billions [of dollars] to be spent on the feedstock systems if you are going to be able to actually run that $40bn of advanced recycling. So this is the beginning of a journey – a very substantial step – in the context of where we’re trying to get to,” he added.

The capacities of future Cyclyx projects will depend on the availability of waste near the location, downstream outlets, as well as the viability of truck traffic.

“One of the things about 150,000 tonnes/year of waste is that there is going to be a lot of truck movement. In certain areas that’s perfectly OK. In other areas, that’s going to be a limitation,” said Stedman, who added that capacity ranges are likely to be between 60,000 and 150,000 tonnes/year.

The CEO sees huge demand for chemically recycled plastics from brand owners and converters sustaining even through volatile economic, energy and geopolitical backdrops.

“It’s very clear that society has said ‘enough is enough’ with regards to unmanaged plastic waste. That’s not going to change because of the oil price or what’s happening in Ukraine or because the UK has had the shortest-ever tenure of a Prime Minister. All of this stuff is noise,” said Stedman.

“What we’re dealing with, just like climate change, is a long-term problem. I don’t see a fundamental shift in terms of direction. [The landscape] may look different than what we might have thought a year or two ago, but I fundamentally believe that if we can demonstrate solutions to this problem, there is plenty of money to actually drive that change,” he added.

In September, Agilyx raised $15m in equity financing to drive projects using its polystyrene (PS) recycling solution called TruStyrenyx with engineering firm Technip Energies. This is based on Agilyx’s pyrolysis process and Technip’s purification technology to yield high-purity styrene monomer.

“That combination allows us to go after things like flame retardant-laden EPS (expandable PS) – the stuff being stripped out of buildings that basically has no other home. That can go directly back to fungible, tradable pure styrene,” said Stedman.

One project is being developed in St James, Louisiana, US, with AmSty and two others in Europe – one of which is with a major UK-based petrochemical company, he noted.

Proceeds from the equity raise will be applied to late-stage engineering of the project with AmSty with the expectation of this starting construction within 12 months (of the September raise), and to develop one of the projects in Europe with the UK-based petrochemical player. Construction of the Europe project, following a final investment decision (FID), is expected to start in around 18 months.

“There’s a big focus to develop projects through to FID, and at that point to then be able to leverage alternative sources of capital as well as strategic customers and chemical companies to build out units,” said Stedman.

“And then, of course we’re still looking at [recycling] PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate) and mixed waste plastic as well, but there’s a real focus on TruStyrenyx at the moment because it is completely unique. Nobody else is close to that,” he added.

The standard TruStyrenyx package will have input capacity of 100 tonnes/day, comprising two pyrolysis reactors and one distillation system.

This is the basis for the PS recycling projects Agilyx is working on in Louisiana with AmSty; in Channahon, Illinois, US with INEOS Styrolution and AmSty; in South Korea with Kumho Petrochemical; and the two in Europe.

Interview article by Joseph Chang

Join us at the ICIS Recycled Polymers Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, US, 7-8 December


Global News + ICIS Chemical Business (ICB)

See the full picture, with unlimited access to ICIS chemicals news across all markets and regions, plus ICB, the industry-leading magazine for the chemicals industry.

Contact us

Partnering with ICIS unlocks a vision of a future you can trust and achieve. We leverage our unrivalled network of industry experts to deliver a comprehensive market view based on independent and reliable data, insight and analytics.

Contact us to learn how we can support you as you transact today and plan for tomorrow.