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The BIRPLAST project is developing improved processes for obtaining circular raw materials from the thermochemical recycling of complex plastic waste.
Twelve Basque companies are collaborating on BIRPLAST, a strategic industrial research project to develop technologies to supply fuels and products with a lower carbon footprint and contribute to the recovery of plastic waste through circular economy processes.
According to the latest data from Plastic Europe, 29.5 million tons of post-consumer plastic waste were collected in Europe (UE27+3) in 2020, of which 42% went toward energy recovery, 35% was managed through recycling processes and 23% was sent to controlled dumps. Recycling plastics is a priority within the European Green Deal strategy to transition to a green and circular European market, one that will require investments and innovation to develop the new business models needed to achieve the goals set by Europe for this stream, which include recycling 55% of plastic packaging by 2030. Currently, European industry only uses 10% recycled plastic in its products, around 5.5 million tons, meaning there is still substantial room for improvement.
This waste stream is also a priority in the 2030 Circular Economy Strategy of the Basque Country and the new 2030 Waste Prevention and Management Plan of the Basque Country, which aim to enable new value chains through recycling and waste recovery processes to increase the use of recycled raw materials by 30% (Basque industry currently imports 77% of its raw materials); increase corporate turnover to 10 billion euros through more circular products, create 3,000 new jobs and reduce the carbon emissions associated with consumption by 26%. In the Basque Country, nearly 640,000 tons of complex plastic waste have been identified annually, which could be used to generate new raw materials and for which there is currently no material recovery route.
The main goal of the project is to generate a knowledge base for developing improved thermochemical recycling processes for complex plastic waste. This waste stream is created primarily in the treatment of other waste, such as light packaging, disused vehicles, and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Due to the problems that its composition and characteristics pose to current recycling models, the reuse of these plastic waste remains very low compared to other materials such as paper, glass and metals. This makes it a potential source of raw materials that cannot be salvaged using state-of-the-art techniques.
BIRPLAST will contribute to the development of new processes for obtaining raw materials from this waste fraction by transforming it into new plastics (Plastic2Plastic) and other high-value chemicals (Plastic2Chemicals), ensuring that materials are kept in a circular process, replacing non-renewable raw materials in the industry.
Technologies to improve thermochemical recycling processes for complex plastic waste
BIRPLAST seeks to play a part in achieving these strategic objectives, while also creating competitive advantages for the companies that make up the consortium, through the following lines of industrial research:
• Improve advanced pre-treatment and separation processes that include drying technologies and optical and robotic systems, combined with Machine Learning algorithms.
• Improve thermochemical recovery processes based on pyrolysis, gasification and solvolysis, including product quality control and the development of advanced purification processes.
• Validate the use of circular raw materials obtained in thermochemical recovery processes, such as polyols, oils, synthesis gases, and polymers, in the manufacture of new plastics and other high-value products.
• Assess the technical-economic feasibility and scalability of the solutions proposed.
The project includes industrial research in 25 new processes, 26 new products and 12 patentable developments. The expected results of the project are:
• The recovery of material resources (€12.4M/year) in the form of waste with a high plastic content,
• New technological solutions to recover complex plastic waste (500,000 t/year),
• Increase the efficiency of separation and sorting processes (10% increase compared to current ones) and couple them to prepare the waste for pyrolysis and gasification processes.
The technologies being developed by BIRPLAST will yield fuels and products with a lower carbon footprint and aid in the recovery of plastic waste through circular economy processes. This is a key contribution to the waste-to-end-product value chain that will also help decarbonize today’s economy while contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda.
BIRPLAST is a strategic industrial research project that has received funding from the HAZITEK 2022 program, an initiative of the Basque Government’s Department of Economic Development, Sustainability and Environment to help corporate R&D.
The consortium is made up of 12 partners, led by SENER. The companies involved are: PETRONOR, TRADEBE, EIFORSA, GLOBAL FACTOR, FIDEGAS, ROBOKIDE, ROTOBASQUE, SBS, SADER, SENER, TRIENEKENS, and ZORROZA GESTIÓN; It is also supported by three members of the Basque Science and Technology Network: GAIKER, TECNALIA and ACLIMA, Basque Environment Cluster.