September 16, 2020

Using thermolysis to create a circular economy

Olefins from Mixed Plastics Waste Are Thermolysis Routes Viable?

Throughout the years, plastics’ growth in popularity, substituting for glass, metal, and other conventional materials in many applications, is due to their excellent characteristics. Among these are light weight, impact resistance, transparency, flexibility, lower cost, ease of fabrication, and coloration without coating. While plastics recycling has always been challenging, this issue has gained global attention with increased public concern over the environment. Despite plastics only comprising about 12 percent of the world’s waste, they have become an environmental target because of littering, especially in the ocean, and their use of fossil hydrocarbon resources related to Climate Change. 

In response to the public pressure:

  • Plastics are the subject of strict regulations globally that have resulted in bans of different types of plastic-based materials (e.g., straws, bags, etc.)
  • NGOs are providing financial support to end plastic waste
  • Brand owners are increasing the recycled content in their products as part of their sustainability goals
  • Technology developers are developing systems that will help create a co-called “Circular Economy”
  • Resin producers are forming partnerships with technology recycling technology developers

Recycling of PET (#1) and HDPE (#2) plastics has been moderately successful but not that of other types. In recent years, companies have turned to thermolysis as a means of utilizing a mixed plastics waste stream while creating a Circular Economy (returning the materials to their original use). The mixed plastic waste feedstocks of interest are the #3 to #7 plastics that would be otherwise sent to landfills or incinerated. Thermolysis technologies (i.e., pyrolysis and gasification) can create a Circular Economy since their products can be used to generate naphtha and methanol (via syngas) that can be used as raw materials for olefins production (e.g., ethylene and propylene) by different routes. The technical and economic feasibility of thermolysis processes are still being investigated, but considerable interest has been displayed in this type of technology by numerous technology developers and resin producers who are leveraging their capabilities through strategic alliances



Find out more…..

In its newly published “Olefins from Mixed Plastic Waste –Are Thermolysis Routes Viable?” NexantECA examines the technical, economic and business aspects of thermolysis (i.e., pyrolysis and gasification) of mixed plastics waste. The report includes analyses of the mixed plastics waste and the thermolysis plant locations. Selected developers of pyrolysis and gasification technologies are profiled and ranked under different criteria. An economic analysis of thermolysis technologies (involving the production of syn-naphtha and methanol) and olefins production are provided for different geographic regions. In addition, the report includes an analysis of the regional competiveness and profitability in the United States Gulf Coast, Western Europe, and China of olefins production compared within various oil price scenarios. Strategic and business considerations (e.g., SWOT, certifications, Porter’s 5 Forces, potential price premium, thermolysis feedstock sources) are also included in the report.


View our 'Olefins from Mixed Plastic Waste: Are Thermolysis Routes Viable?' webinar recording by clicking on the link below.


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About Us - NexantECA, the Energy and Chemicals Advisory company is the leading advisor to the energy, refining, and chemical industries. Our clientele ranges from major oil and chemical companies, governments, investors, and financial institutions to regulators, development agencies, and law firms. Using a combination of business and technical expertise, with deep and broad understanding of markets, technologies and economics, NexantECA provides solutions that our clients have relied upon for over 50 years.

The Authors

Marisabel Dolan, Senior Consultant



Luann Farrell, Managing Consultant 



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