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The recycling process of plastic waste.
The recycling process of plastic waste.
Photo: 12

BASF just announced that it has for the first time manufactured products based on chemically recycled plastic waste.

The company has begun to produce syngas and oils from waste plastics using a thermochemical process through its new ChemCycling project. The resulting recycled raw materials can be used as inputs in BASF’s production, thereby partially replacing fossil resources.

From waste to cheese packaging and fridge components

BASF is already 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 specifically 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.

As a next step, the company planned to make the first products from the ChemCycling project commercially available.

“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,” said Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of BASF SE. We have joined forces with partners throughout the value chain to establish a working circular model.

Stefan Gräter, head of the ChemCycling project at BASF,
saw great potential: “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.”

BASF Verbund offers ideal conditions for ChemCycling

Dr. Stefan Gräter and Dr. Andreas Kicherer showed a sample of pyrolysis oil and thus produced plastic in front of the Steamcracker.

At the beginning of the production chain, BASF feeds oil derived from plastic waste by an oiling process into the Production Verbund. BASF gets this feedstock for the pilot products from the partner Recenso GmbH, Germany.

As an alternative, syngas made from plastic waste can also 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°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. Each customer can select the allocated percentage of recycled material.

Technological and regulatory challenges

According to Andreas Kicherer, sustainability expert at BASF, a wide range of recovery options for plastic waste is needed, since not every solution is suitable for each type of waste or possible for each product application. 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. For one thing, the existing technologies to transform plastic waste into recycled raw materials such as pyrolysis oil or syngas must be further developed and adapted so that 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.

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