Revolutionary new concept in recycling of plastic waste

BASF’s ChemCycling Project

Source: BASF

BASF, one of the world’s leading chemical manufacturers and most respected organizations in this business, is pioneering a unique concept in the recycling of plastic waste. It has created and launched an initiative called ChemCycling Project that focuses on chemically  recycling plastics using thermo-chemical processes to find ways of reusing/recycling plastic waste that are difficult to regenerate into discrete plastics for re-use (like multi-layered plastic structures, mixed plastic waste, unclean or non-sorted post-consumer waste, waste with residues including food residues that are difficult to remove or unhygienic). No viable solutions are currently available to recycle these materials and they are mostly consigned to landfills or incinerators.

ChemCycling uses and builds on the concept that waste materials that cannot be mechanically recycled (mechanical recycling requires safe and pure waste materials which are available via collection and/or sorting in commercial quantities) into basic polymers can be chemically broken down into gaseous products that can be used as building blocks for manufacturing new plastics or industrial chemicals/intermediates and into pyrolysis oils that can replace fossil fuels. These gases or pyrolysis oils can be used as fossil feedstock or as raw materials, thus conserving prime non-renewable scarce fossil resources.

The following schematic explains the chemical recycling concept:

During the chemical recycling process, the waste plastic is treated at very high temperatures and broken down into syngas (synthesis gas) or pyrolysis oils. The syngas can be used to produce synthetic natural gas or other chemicals including a petroleum-like material that can be used as fuel or lubricant. The input plastic waste for this process can be even unsorted or mixed plastics or plastics contaminated with residues like food residues. In October this year, during the first phase of innovation, BASF fed oils supplied by Recenso (the company’s technology partner that supplies the feedstock for the pilot production processes) into the steam cracker at its Ludwigshafen plant and the resulting products obtained were ethylene and propylene, which can be used to manufacture a wide variety of chemicals including polymers like polyethylene and polypropylene. BASF is now working on commercializing these processes and products.

If BASF is able to convert its pilot trials into commercially viable processes, this will be a ground-breaking innovation that can make the recycling of mixed plastic waste, unsorted plastic waste and residue-contaminated waste into new chemicals and intermediates possible. This will go a long way towards making plastic waste perpetually recyclable into equivalent applications or even upcycling them and thus enabling a circular economy – at least in the plastic realm.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to the country-wide lockdown on 25 March 2020. It will be two years tomorrow as I write this. What have we learned in this time? Maybe the meaning of resilience since small companies like us have had to rely on our resources and the forbearance of our employees as we have struggled to produce our trade platforms.

The print and packaging industries have been fortunate, although the commercial printing industry is still to recover. We have learned more about the digital transformation that affects commercial printing and packaging. Ultimately digital will help print grow in a country where we are still far behind in our paper and print consumption and where digital is a leapfrog technology that will only increase the demand for print in the foreseeable future.

Web analytics show that we now have readership in North America and Europe amongst the 90 countries where our five platforms reach. Our traffic which more than doubled in 2020, has at times gone up by another 50% in 2021. And advertising which had fallen to pieces in 2020 and 2021, has started its return since January 2022.

As the economy approaches real growth with unevenness and shortages a given, we are looking forward to the PrintPack India exhibition in Greater Noida. We are again appointed to produce the Show Daily on all five days of the show from 26 to 30 May 2022.

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– Naresh Khanna

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