BP has developed what it describes as an “enhanced recycling technology,” BP Infinia, that enables currently unrecyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) to be transformed back into new, virgin-quality feedstocks.
The company says it plans to construct a $25 million pilot plant in the U.S. to prove its chemical recylin gtechnology before progressing to full-scale commercialization.
Tufan Erginbilgic, BP downstream chief executive, says, “We see our Infinia technology as a game-changer for the recycling of PET plastics. It is an important stepping stone in enabling a stronger circular economy in the polyester industry and helping to reduce unmanaged plastic waste.”
PET is the most commonly used plastic for beverage and rigid food packaging, according to BP, which says 27 million metric tons of the material are used annually in these applications globally, with the majority, roughly 23 million metric tons, used in bottles.
Although PET is one of the most widely recycled types of plastic, less than 60 percent of the PET used for bottles is collected for recycling and only 6 percent of the total makes it back into new bottles, the company says.
BP Infinia technology is designed to turn difficult-to-recycle PET plastic, such as black food trays and colored bottles, into recycled feedstocks that are interchangeable with those made from traditional hydrocarbon sources, the company says.
These recycled monomer feedstocks can then be used to make new PET packaging that may be recycled again and again. This could reduce the need for downcycling and divert plastic from landfills and incineration.
Charles Damianides, vice president of petrochemicals technology, licensing and business development, says, “BP is committed to fully developing and commercializing this technology. We have long experience and a proven track record of scaling technology and we firmly believe that this innovation can ultimately contribute to making all types of polyester waste infinitely recyclable.”
BP says its new pilot plant is planned for its research and development hub in Naperville, Illinois. It is expected to be operational in late 2020.
The company says it sees the potential to develop multiple full-scale commercial plants using this technology around the world. If deployed at scale in a number of facilities, BP estimates that the technology has the potential to prevent billions of PET bottles and trays from ending up in landfills or incineration every year.