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According to the German Environment Agency (UBA), only just under half of the six million tonnes of plastic waste accumulated per year in Germany has been recycled until now. The remainder is made up of mixed plastic, plastics with residues or multi-layered packaging, which are types of waste that have normally been incinerated to produce energy. By means of chemical recycling, however, plastic waste that could not previously be recycled can be transformed into new chemical raw materials. The building blocks of plastic are thus kept in the resource loop.
Innovation: recycle rather than incinerate
In the ChemCycling project, the thermochemical process of pyrolysis is used, whereby pyrolysis oil is produced from plastic waste by heating it in an oxygen-deficient atmosphere. This oil is then further purified and used in the BASF steam cracker, for example, along with fossil feedstock. The steam cracker breaks down the raw materials at a temperature of approximately 850 degrees Celsius, producing ethylene and propylene for the most part. These chemicals in turn form the basis for the production of new plastics.
BASF and its partners are currently working on further refining the technology and on the feasibility of using the technique on an industrial scale.
Efficiency: certified products
From transparent materials for refrigerators, to packaging for cheese, right up to insulation boxes for the healthcare sector or automotive components – the range of potential applications for products based on chemically recycled plastic is diverse. BASF has already demonstrated this by producing prototypes in collaboration with customers from various industrial sectors. In addition, the first commercial products have been on the market since 2020. The respective recycled component is assigned to the products by a mass balance process audited by independent bodies. This provides certification confirming that the products under development are indistinguishable from those produced from fossil feedstock and can be used for demanding applications.
Effect: reduction of fossil feedstock
Recycling plastic waste means that the proportion of this waste used for energy recovery decreases. According to life cycle analyses, 50 per cent fewer CO2 emissions are thereby caused as compared to the waste being incinerated. At the same time, using recycled raw materials reduces the use of fossil feedstock, since the newly produced pyrolysis oil is used instead of fossil-based crude oil.
* ChemCyclingTM is a registered trademark in the EU