When plastic becomes oil again: igus invests in chemical recycling pioneer

Cat-HTR technology developed by a German scientist regains resources from plastic waste in 20 minutes

February 19, 2020 – igus announced it has invested more than $5 million in a commercial plant that will recycle plastic waste within 20 minutes. Using Cat-HTR (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) technology, the process will enable oil obtained from the recycling to make new polymer products.

igus, the Germany-based manufacturer of motion plastics, runs its North American operations out of Providence, R.I.

Every year, eight million metric tons of plastic are deposited in the world’s oceans[1]. These lost resources are worth around $80 billion[2]. Most plastic, however, has been incinerated and only 14 percent recycled[3].

Plastic recycling is an important issue for igus. In the case of classic recycling – shredding and reusing plastic – igus took a bold step forward last October by launching its new chaingeprogram. The company takes back energy chains when the service life of a machine is over, irrespective of their manufacturer. It then regranulates the plastic and processes it again. “With the igus chainge programme, we have started to recycle the plastic of old products,” said Frank Blase, CEO of igus GmbH.

Back to oil with water, high temperatures and pressure

However, mixed waste remains worldwide and in the case of non-technical plastics, in quantities 100 to 1000 times greater than technical plastics. “Chemical recycling offers new solutions in this regard,” Blase said. “In the middle of last year, I read an article about  Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor technology in the FAZ. The next day, I contacted the German inventor Professor Thomas Maschmeyer in Sydney.”

Seven months later, after intensive research, igus now invests four million British pounds ($5.1 million) in Mura Technology Limited and the construction of the first Cat-HTR plant. The patented chemical Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (abbreviated: Cat-HTR) technology was developed in 2007 and tested in a pilot plant in Australia for 10 years. With Cat-HTR technology, plastic waste that was previously impossible to recycle can be converted back into oil within 20 minutes.

The process is more efficient than the extraction of fossil fuels from the ground. Only water, high temperatures and pressure are used to separate the cells and join them together. One plant alone can process 20,000 metric tons of plastic per year and reduce CO2 output by 28,180 metric tons. This corresponds to the annual consumption of 5,983 cars or the annual energy needs of 4,914 households[4].

Plastic recycling Cat-HTR-plant

The first commercial Cat-HTR-plant is currently being planned in Wilton, Great Britain, and construction is to start this year. Waste companies supply the waste plastic to meet their recycling goals. Oil is then obtained that can be sold as a replacement for virgin fossil oil. A total of four catalytic hydrothermal reactors are to be built in Wilton and will be able to process more than 80,000 metric tons of plastic waste every year.

As a next step, Mura is planning to issue licenses worldwide and build new plants. “We are committed to the achievement of a state of balance in the world of plastics with technical solutions”, Blase said.

Find out more about Cat-HTR technology in the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGx4m0KiFac

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