mixed plastics amp ai
Photo courtesy of Amp Robotics Corp.

Amp Robotics to operate secondary sorting facilities

The decision follows testing at the company’s facility in Denver.

March 4, 2021

Matanya Horowitz, founder and CEO of Amp Robotics Corp., a Denver-based company that develops artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics for the recycling industry, says the company has developed a “really good solution for secondary sortation” that uses robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). The company is looking for partners that could benefit from the solution, such as plastic reclaimers or material recovery facilities (MRFs) that have high disposal costs for the residue they generate.

“We are looking to be really involved and prescriptive about how this thing would work,” he says. “We are looking at it as a system rather than an individual component, like a robot.”

Operation of the facilities would be Amp’s responsibility. “The reason for that is we’ve been able to tie our technology pretty closely together, and, so to a large extent, our software is really the one operating the facility. We can really tune that facility to what some end customer might really want.”  

The company has piloted an automated facility design for advanced secondary sortation at its company-owned test facility in Denver. That pilot plant offers an infrastructure model that can process and aggregate small volumes of difficult-to-recycle mixed plastics, paper and metals sourced from residue supplied by primary MRFs, Amp says in a news release about the secondary sorting system.

“Secondary sortation efforts are not new but have been held back by how to make it work economically and at scale,” Horowitz says in the news release. “Amp’s application of AI for material identification and advanced automation has matured to the point where it’s now feasible to develop low-volume secondary sortation facilities that are economical to deploy and sustain nationally. Results we’ve observed at our test facility are promising and represent an infrastructure solution that can increase recycling rates, divert recyclables from the landfill, meet the growing demand for recycled content and protect our environment.”

The company’s secondary sorting facilities apply advanced automation enabled by AI to economically sort through these low volumes of residue or mixed plastics to recover polyethylene terephthalate (PET), high-density polyethylene (HDPE), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP) and polystyrene (PS), the company says. These material streams also could contain used beverage cans (UBCs) and old corrugated containers (OCC). Amp says its secondary facilities can drive down the cost of recovery while creating contamination-free, high-quality bales of recycled material for resale.

Horowitz says Amp will evaluate the material streams from the companies it partners with to determine whether and how much it will pay for the material. The company can do so by running bales from the facilities in question through the vision system at its test facility to characterize the material. If the value of the incoming material doesn’t warrant payment, Horowitz says suppliers can still benefit from avoided disposal fees, though a modest tipping fee would apply to process the material at the secondary sorting facility. He adds that by sending their residue to these facilities for secondary processing, MRFs could realize new revenue streams, changing “the equation for them.”

The company says it plans to roll out a number of secondary facilities in other parts of the country during 2021. Horowitz says large metro areas that have several MRFs are ideal locations and would be able to supply the 30,000 tons per year necessary to make a location viable. Locating in such an area also would reduce transportation costs. In the case of reclaimers, secondary sorting facilities could be co-located at an existing facility or nearby, he says.

By using robots and AI in a 24-hour operation that recirculates material, a key principle of the system, Horowitz says Amp will be able to drive down cost. He says the company’s technology can recover items as small as coffee pods and as large as pizza boxes.

Amp could potentially create custom blends at its facilities for specific end users that target plastic of a specific chemistry, color and melt point, for example.

“We are excited that robots and AI can open new doors for the industry,” Horowitz says. “We think this is a nice complement to what the MRFs are doing.”

Amp says it is seeking to expand supply partnerships with waste management companies to acquire residual material. The company also is working with an undisclosed group of buyers for the commodities it recovers at the secondary sorting facilities.

In January, Amp announced that it raised $55 million in corporate equity in a Series B financing led by XN with participation from new investors Valor Equity Partners and GV as well as existing investors Sequoia Capital, Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, Congruent Ventures and Closed Loop Partners. This new round of funding followed a $16 million Series A financing led by Sequoia Capital in November 2019.