16 October 2020 by Steve Eminton

Biffa and Veolia among UKRI-backed plastics projects

Research funding totalling £20 million has been announced for a set of UK projects to develop plastics recycling.

The projects are a mix of approaches to recycling plastics, several involving chemical recycling, along with funding to get the colour out of some polymers.

Waste management companies Biffa and Veolia are involved in two of the developments are being backed by the support money. The funding comes from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and will be matched by a forecast £65m+ of industry investment.

“I look forward to seeing them develop and deliver real results”

Rebecca Pow, resources minister

Resources and recycling minister, Rebecca Pow said: “By investing in these truly ground-breaking technologies we will help to drive these efforts even further, and I look forward to seeing them develop and deliver real results.”

The four projects won their funding by submitting applications outlining prototypes for innovative new recycling technology as part of a UKRI competition launched in December 2019. The grants aim to “turn theory into practice, bringing the plants online and scaling up their operations”.

Paul Davidson, UKRI said the work will help reinstate plastics as a sustainable packaging choice

The funding forms part of UKRI’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging (SSPP) challenge, which aims to increase the amount of recyclable plastic packaging and improve UK productivity in plastics, leading to a reduction in plastic waste entering the environment.

Paul Davidson, challenge director of the SSPP challenge and a former plastics specialist at WRAP, said: “The plastic packaging industry is changing, to become more responsive to our environmentally conscious concerns. The work of our four demonstrator winners will go a long way to reinstate plastic as a sustainable packaging choice. In particular, our winners demonstrated they have a lifecycle approach to plastics packaging, thinking through the use of a material from its raw state, through to its transport, its use by consumers and its disposal.”

Mr Davidson added: “This funding is just the start and we are planning further competitions in the near future.”

The projects are:

1. Poseidon Plastics

Poseidon aims to “commercialise its novel enhanced recycling technology through the construction of a 15,000 tonne per annum PET recycling facility”.

Biffa’s plastics recycling facilities include a new site at Seaham

Partnering with waste collection and mechanical recycling experts Biffa and PET resin producers Alpek Polyester UK and DuPont Teijin Films UK, this project aims to demonstrate how post-consumer and post-industrial packaging, film and other hard-to-recycle PET wastes can be chemically recycled back into new consumer end-use goods.Through collaboration with the Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York and polyester fibre users, O’Neills Irish International Sports Company and GRN Sportswear (trading as Presca Sportswear), the consortium further aims to demonstrate and optimise a closed-loop, circular economy for all polyester materials. www.poseidonplastics.com

Mick Davis, chief operating officer for Biffa’s resources & energy division, said “The Poseidon Project has the potential to become a meaningful building block in expanding the UK’s recycling infrastructure, to create a more sustainable future. This is a great example of the circular economy in action with stakeholders from across the supply chain being involved. We are also proud that this is another activity in the North East which further supports the country’s Northern Powerhouse. We’re delighted to be involved in this transformational project which will hopefully demonstrate a sustainable way to recycle challenging grades of PET plastic.”

2. Veolia

Veolia in collaboration with Unilever, Charpak Ltd and HSSMI will develop “the UK’s first dual PET bottle and tray recycling facility” (supported by a digital twin created by HSSMI), capable of recycling 100% of clear rigid PET in a closed-loop system. Unilever will investigate the non-food contact recycled PET produced from this facility in its home and personal care range, so avoiding the use of food contact grade material in these non-food products. Charpak Ltd will use the flakes produced in its trays, making tray to tray recycling a reality. This will create a new, complementary non-food closed loop for recycled PET and widen availability of the material for use in bottles and trays.

Veolia is already active in plastics recycling, pictured is its Dagenham bottle recycling facility

Through the development and use of the digital twin, HSSMI will pioneer a virtual engineering approach in the waste industry, which will help optimise the facility and identify potential commercial challenges. If initial trials are successful, the proposed facility would process 35,000tpa of mixed PET packaging waste at an existing Veolia site.

Paul Smith MD of Charpak Ltd said: “As a business, Charpak Ltd has been at the forefront of driving sustainability in plastic packaging. UK retailers across their range are looking to improve the sustainability of packaging. This UKRI grant will allow Charpak Ltd to fully research and test the process before launching to the wider market. The benefits for the environment are huge, with less plastic waste being burnt, landfilled or shipped abroad. We are hopeful that this project will lead to a true Tray to Tray recycling scheme to create better circularity with the attendant cut in emissions keeping this precious resource local to be used again and again. Anything that improves recycling rates is to be applauded.”

3. Renew ELP

ReNew ELP proposes to set up a plant centred on a Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) at Wilton, Teesside. Once up and running, the plant would convert 20,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) (increasing to 80,000 tpa on site completion) of end of life plastic into chemicals and oils for use in the production of new virgin grade plastics including naphtha, waxes, and a bitumen-like residue suitable for use in road construction.

Richard Daley, MD of ReNew ELP, said: “This grant demonstrates we are in line with Government Policy and its drive towards achieving increased recycling targets in the UK. It will increase investor confidence, help new and innovative technologies such as ours break through and establish the Chemical Recycling Industry in the UK, and as a global leader in plastic recycling.”

4. Recycling Technologies

Recycling Technologies has been awarded funding for a chemical recycling plant that uses thermal cracking to recycle a wide range of plastic waste that cannot be recycled by conventional methods. The plant is designed to process 7,000tpa of hard-to-recycle mixed plastic waste, producing 5,200tpa of a hydrocarbon oil product. It will be based in Perth, Scotland. Partners are Neste Corporation and Unilever. “This project combines the expertise of these three global leaders in their respective business areas to develop chemical recycling and make hard-to-recycle plastic packaging, such as films, sachets and pouches, recyclable,” claimed UKRI.

Locations

ReNew ELP and Poseidon Plastics projects are located at the Wilton International site at Teesside, in close proximity to other plastic packaging and recycling infrastructure. These projects have the potential to create around 200 jobs in the Teesside area, a significant boost to the economy in the North of England, said UKRI.

Registration

Registration is now open for the Future Plastic Packaging Solutions competition briefing event on 3 November, hosted by KTN and UKCPN. Competition opens end of October. Further SSPP competitions will be opening in 2021.

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