The ChemCycling project from Ludwigshafen, Germany-based BASF uses chemically recycled plastics to produce new products. Using thermochemical processes, these plastics can be used to produce syngas or oils that can be used as raw materials in BASF’s production, thereby partially replacing fossil resources.
“A responsible use of plastics is crucial to solve the world’s waste problem,” says Dr. Martin Brudermüller, chairman of the board of executive directors and chief technology officer (CTO) of BASF SE. “This applies to companies as well as to institutions and consumers. With chemical recycling we want to make a significant contribution in reducing the amount of plastic waste.”
He continues, “With our ChemCycling project, we are using plastic waste as a resource. In this way, we create value for the environment, society and the economy.”
Brudermüller adds that BASF “has joined forces with partners throughout the value chain to establish a working circular model.”
The company’s customers and partners range from waste management firms to technology providers and packaging producers.
BASF says it is developing pilot products, including mozzarella packaging, refrigerator components and insulation panels, with 10 customers from various industries. Manufacturing products that meet high quality and hygiene standards, which are required for food packaging for example, is possible because the ChemCycling products supplied by BASF have exactly the same properties as products made from fossil resources, according to the company.
Stefan Gräter, head of the ChemCycling project at BASF, says, “This new way of recycling offers opportunities for innovative business models for us and our customers, who already place great value on products and packaging made from recycled materials but who cannot or do not want to make any compromises when it comes to quality.”
As a next step, BASF plans to make the first products from the ChemCycling project commercially available.
At the beginning of the production chain, BASF feeds oil derived from plastic scrap into the Production Verbund. BASF gets this feedstock for the pilot products from its partner Recenso GmbH, Germany. As an alternative, BASF says syngas made from plastic scrap also can be used.
The first batch of this oil was fed into the steam cracker at BASF’s site in Ludwigshafen in October. The steam cracker is the starting point for Verbund production. It breaks down or “cracks” this raw material at temperatures of around 850 degrees C. The primary outputs of the process are ethylene and propylene. These basic chemicals are used in the Verbund to make numerous chemical products. Under the mass balance approach, the share of recycled raw material can be mathematically allocated to the final certified product, according to the company. Each customer can select the allocated percentage of recycled material.
“We need a wide range of recovery options for plastic waste since not every solution is suitable for each type of waste or possible for each product application,” says Andreas Kicherer, sustainability expert at BASF. “The first choice should always be the solution that performs best in a life cycle assessment.”
However, technological and regulatory conditions must be met before the project is market-ready, BASF says. For one thing, the existing technologies to transform plastic scrap into recycled raw materials, such as pyrolysis oil or syngas, must be further developed and adapted so consistently high quality is assured. Furthermore, regional regulatory frameworks will considerably influence to what extent this approach can be established in each market. For example, it is essential that chemical recycling and the mass balance approach are recognized as contributing to the fulfillment of product and application-specific recycling targets, the company adds.
Further information about ChemCycling can be found on the company’s website.