Continual evolution

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Agilyx and its chemical recycling technology have evolved since the company’s founding in 2004 as Plas2Fuel.

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October 6, 2021

Agilyx and AmSty are partners in Regenyx, which is recycling postuse polystyrene in Tigard, Oregon.
Photos courtesy of Agilyx

In the years since Agilyx Corp. was founded in 2004 as Plas2Fuel in Longview, Washington, the company and its technologies have continued to evolve. The last decade has been particularly eventful for the company as Tigard, Oregon-based Agilyx changed its name in 2010 and began commercial-scale production in 2019 with its joint venture Regenyx, using the seventh generation of its technology at its site in Tigard.

The company’s proprietary technology uses a reactor to break down postuse plastics through pyrolysis—a process that uses heat in the absence of oxygen—into smaller molecules that are then converted into gasified plastics. These gases are then cooled into liquid form and further processed into products.

Stedman

Tim Stedman, CEO of Agilyx AS, Oslo, Norway, the parent company of Agilyx Corp., says, “Agilyx was the first company to demonstrate that most unrecycled plastics are not only valuable but also circular on a commercial scale.”

Stedman came to Agilyx in August 2020. Before joining the company, he was the senior vice president of strategy and corporate development for Trinseo, a global materials company focused on manufacturing plastics, latex and synthetic rubber. Prior to that role, Stedman spent more than 20 years at ExxonMobil as business director of the basic chemical business.

Stedman says Agilyx’s technology initially was designed to convert nonrecyclable mixed postuse plastics into synthetic crude oil. However, he adds, “Agilyx’s technology and chemical expertise were refined over a decade to turn waste plastic into multiple upcycled products and materials: plastic intermediates and virgin-equivalent plastic.”

Stedman says the company’s mission is as clear now as it was when it was founded in 2004. “We want to make plastics a reusable resource and circular,” he says. “To do this, we are focusing on developing new product pathways as well as plastics-to-chemical intermediates. Our advanced recycling technologies and feedstock management system combined enables a new and circular life to plastic waste, supporting multiple United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, brand-owner commitments, EU government policies and societal trends.”

In addition to its pyrolysis process, Agilyx employs two other proprietary systems for feedstock preparation and plastics management through artificial intelligence (AI) models and tools.

“Since the company’s beginnings, Agilyx has been hard at work developing pyrolysis technologies, understanding the complex chemistries of waste plastics, feedstock supply chain issues and comprehensive solution sets to make plastics circular,” Stedman says. “Many things have evolved and changed throughout our 17-year evolution.”

Seven generations strong

Agilyx’s technology is in its seventh generation, with Stedman saying the company has made significant improvements in the “design, functionality and environmental stewardship of our conversion system” over time.

“In order to make chemical recycling or advanced recycling a reality, you need three things,” he says. “You need to understand feedstock and feedstock technology, you need to understand conversion and then you need to understand the cleanup or the separation technology on the back end of that conversion so that you can optimize it.”

Stedman adds that with the various generations of its technology, Agilyx has made improvements in all three areas.

The company’s conversion technology can accept a broad range of feedstock in terms of the degree of contamination and the physical form of the material, increasing the pool of available material and lowering its acquisition costs, he says. “And it’s something that we can dial in the chemistry for, because we understand the chemistry of what’s coming in through our feedstock technology through Cyclyx,” Stedman adds, referring to Cyclyx International LLC, its Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based joint venture that was formed earlier this year with ExxonMobil to develop new supply chains to aggregate and preprocess postuse plastics. (For more on Cyclyx, see the sidebar titled “Cyclyx seeks to tap into material streams,” below.) “We can also help optimize the chemistry in terms of the heat input we put into the reactor to optimize the output. And then, finally, we’ve been working with AI techniques to improve on and develop the purification processes on the back end.”

While Agilyx has offices around the globe, it currently has an advanced recycling facility in Tigard that it has operated since 2018, with several more in the pipeline with partners globally.

In 2019, Agilyx and AmSty, or Americas Styrenics LLC, The Woodlands, Texas, an integrated producer of polystyrene (PS) and styrene monomer, formed a joint venture company known as Regenyx, with both companies having an equal stake. At that time, Regenyx assumed the assets of Agilyx’s Tigard facility, which is undergoing operational adjustments designed to maximize efficiency and investing in research and development improvements, Stedman says.

He describes the Tigard site, with the capacity to process 10 tons per day, as “the first commercial-scale closed-loop advanced recycling facility of its kind.”

Stedman adds, “We’re able to convert waste material back to its original molecular level, allowing for true circularity and products to reenter the value chain.”

The Regenyx site is International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) Plus certified.

The power of partnerships

Agilyx says its technology is suitable for polymers beyond polystyrene.

Stedman says Agilyx is expanding the number of sites that will operate its technology through recent partnerships, including a second Regenyx site that is under development with AmSty, as well as sites with Braskem, A.Eon and Toyo Styrene.

He says, “Agilyx’s core business model is to license its technology to partners. We have announced numerous collaborations over the last year which are in various stages of development.”

Licensing was not always the plan, Stedman says, as Agilyx originally planned to own and operate facilities before realizing that would limit the company’s ability to drive change. He says Agilyx has signed on to numerous partnerships in the last year to license its technology; however, if it had stayed with its previous facility ownership model, “we may have been able to consider one” project. Licensing its technology also enables the company to “maximize synergies with existing assets,” as it’s doing with its next Regenyx project.

AmSty and Agilyx are developing a new Regenyx facility to be located at AmSty’s styrene production facility in St. James, Louisiana, that will be able to process 50 to 100 tons per day, Stedman says. A feasibility study for the project began earlier this year, with a timeline for construction and commissioning to be announced as progress continues.

When development of that facility was announced, Randy Pogue, president and chief executive officer of AmSty, said, “Polystyrene is an ideal material for the future of recycling. Not only can polystyrene products offer sustainability advantages where less material is required (e.g., a polystyrene foam cup is 95 percent air), but polystyrene is particularly advantageous for advanced recycling because it can be ‘unzipped’ back to its original liquid form, styrene monomer, using 40 percent less energy than other polymers.”

He continued, “As the global plastics industry moves toward circular recycling to build value and grow access, polystyrene becomes very attractive as a first mover with its inherent conversion advantages. AmSty is committed to keeping polystyrene products out of landfills through circular recycling. We are excited to expand our relationship with Agilyx in this new project to accelerate progress.”

Philadelphia-based polyolefins and biopolymers producer Braskem also has partnered with Agilyx to initiate a feasibility study to explore the development and construction of an advanced plastics recycling project in North America.

That project aims to examine an efficient pathway to produce polypropylene (PP) using difficult-to-recycle mixed postuse plastics for use in applications such as food packaging and consumer and hygiene products.

When the partnership was announced in December 2020, Mark Nikolich, chief executive officer of Braskem America, said, “As the North American leader in polypropylene, Braskem is committed to evolving its feedstock portfolio to leverage more sustainable input sources and is currently evaluating various supply agreements and innovative projects to drive this shift. Our collaboration with Agilyx is just the most recent example of Braskem’s efforts to more holistically address the limited availability of propylene feedstock derived from postuse plastic in the market today.”

The A.Eon Holdings Pty Ltd. partnership is taking a different track. The company and Agilyx have signed a memorandum of understanding to evaluate the construction of a 50-ton-per-day commercial-scale plastics-to-energy facility using Agilyx’s technology in Melbourne, Australia, to convert mixed plastics into Agilyx Synthetic Crude Oil (ASCO). The ASCO produced at the site would be used by A.Eon to generate electricity for the Victorian state government’s redeveloped Footscray Hospital project and local industry, as well as to supply peak energy demand. This initial 50-ton-per-day focus is a starting point, with an option for additional commercial-scale facilities to be developed in Australia by A.Eon, Agilyx says.

Broadening its scope

 

Despite the focus on PS at the Regenyx site in Tigard, Agilyx says its conversion technology can handle a range of plastics, including mixed plastics. Stedman says at the Tigard site, Agilyx is testing other infeed materials and recycling pathways to broaden the scope of its technology.

“Agilyx has plastic-to-plastic conversion technology that can utilize a wide range of postuse plastic feedstock, including PET [polyethylene terephthalate], HDPE [high-density polyethylene], PVC [polyvinyl chloride], LDPE [low-density polyethylene], PP, PS, PMMA [polymethyl methacrylate] and more,” Stedman says. “Our technology converts these polymers into multiple commercial products, including styrene monomer, acrylic, propylene, naphtha, olefins, as well as fuels.”

The company recently was granted a patent continuation for its process of breaking down postuse PS into its chemical building block, styrene monomer. According to a news release from Agilyx, “The continuation of U.S. patent number 11,041,123 further confirms Agilyx’s depolymerization technology extends to the breaking down of all waste plastic polymers into their respective discrete monomers and is not only limited to polystyrene. This patent demonstrates the versatility of Agilyx’s innovation portfolio while continuing to advance its position as a leader in the depolymerization of waste plastics.”

“This patent continuation demonstrates the robustness and versatility of the Agilyx technology, not restricting our claims to polystyrene to styrene monomer,” says Chris Faulkner, chief technology officer at Agilyx. “Essentially, our process has not changed. We are using the same technology on the same machinery, though it may be operated in a slightly different way depending on the polymer. The recognition that this technology applies to a broader range of polymers is an exciting advancement in our mission to increase recycling and circularity of postuse plastics.”

Stedman says Agilyx’s goal is “to deliver the conversion of at least 1,500 tons per day of postuse plastic annually by 2030,” adding that the market is “very receptive” to Agilyx’s solutions and “competitive price point.”

He continues, “The entire plastics value chain is under pressure—from customers, consumers and regulators—to transform and redesign products and processes to create a more environmentally responsible life cycle—and to do so urgently. Agilyx is well-positioned to enable and accelerate the necessary change to make the circular economy a reality.”

The author is editor of Recycling Today. Email her at dtoto@gie.net.