Chemical Recycling Europe 2024 - an inspiring event with many learnings

10 June 2024


Silke Einschuetz, Senior Consultant Recycling & Sustainability at AMI

I am looking back at three days of presentations, panel discussions and networking conversations during AMI's Chemical Recycling Europe and Feedstocks for Plastics Recycling events in Brussels last week. A thoroughly enjoyable experience with plenty of new information and learnings.

I cannot pretend that my presentation to start off Chemical Recycling Europe painted an entirely rosy picture of industry developments over the past year. The industry faces significant challenges during 12 months characterised by a number of significant successes, but also a broad range of internal and external challenges that manifested in project delays and lower than expected installed input capacity at the end of 2023. The great value of our quarterly updates of Chemical Recycling Global Status, AMI's report on global chemical recycling industry developments, became obvious, allowing for regular "reality checks" on announced plans and projects.

The operating environment for Europe's industry overall is changing, with significant impacts on an immature sector in urgent need of investment. Opportunities are provided within the context of emerging legislation emphasising recycled content targets, and the potential for a new European industrial policy focusing on technologies able to facilitate implementation of the European Green Deal.

Thank you very much to Alexander Roeder of Plastics Europe for detailing the association's roadmap and the contributions mechanical recycling, chemical recycling, and bio-based plastics are projected to make to advance circular plastic use going forward.

Edzard Scholten of BASF provided valuable information on the environmental and health aspects of chemical recycling, providing details about BASF's ChemCycling® technology and the partnerships forged to make it a business success. He illustrated the company's measurement programme for pyrolysis oil that ensures that toxic substances remain below the limit values set by legislation.

An update on "Calculation of recycled plastic content in the context of the Single Use Plastics Directive" was provided by Julia Roettggerding of the European Commission, with a focus on the mass balance approach as well as upcoming targets for recycled content under the new Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation. Always an extremely relevant topic and, as Julia concluded in her presentation, it is more important than how to split the cake is to make the cake bigger.

Jean-Paul Lange of Shell introduced the audience to recycling cascades enabling "deep recycling", outlining how the carbo-chemical industry will largely defossilise over the coming decades. This was followed by a joint presentation by Adela Putinelu of Plastic Energy and Alejandra Martinez Guajardo of Sphera who shared information of Plastic Energy's technology and successes and outlined, using Plastic Energy's example, how LCA studies can provide valuable information about technologies' comparative performance metrics.

Stefan Gärtner of Meo Carbon Solutions illustrated mass balance attribution approaches for chemical recycling of plastics, adding another element to understanding this complex and often misunderstood chain of custody concept.

A brand-new technology, enzymatic bio-catalysis for "non-hydrolysable" plastics was presented by Irene Méndez Álvarez and Humberto Kravetz of Entzimatiko, followed by Sven Wolf of Next Generation Elements GmbH and Thomas Pichler of BDI-BioEnergy International GmbH presenting a technology provider's view of the benefits of decentral chemical recycling using the example of the Syncycle plant concept and implementation.

Christian Lach of Quantafuel concluded the day with "Chemical Recycling in the Real World", outlining Quantafuel's technology and how it is highly complementary to Viridor's strategy, with the two companies together building a complementary pathway to provide the most circular solution for all major plastics.

Our second day was opened by Guillaume Gamon of Citeo, presenting on the challenges and opportunities for the development of chemical recycling for household packaging waste. Manuel Steiner and Roland Kunkel of LIST Technology AG took to the stage next to present how List Polymer Recycling processes and the company's KneaderReactor Technology can support advanced chemical recycling.

Next it was very interesting to hear how Topsoe plans to be recognised as the global leader in carbon emission reduction technologies by 2024, presented by Jesper Gottlieb who outlined the company's PureStep technology for contaminant removal and property adjustment of pyrolysis oil. Irina Yarulina of Sulzer took to the stage next to speak about the company's purification technologies and how plastic waste can be transformed into opportunity through collaborative innovation.

Outi Teräs of Neste presented on "how to recycle the unrecyclable", outlining the company's vision of polymers and chemicals in a more sustainable future, its approach to chemical recycling through liquefaction and intermediate refining as well as the partnership with Alterra.

It was fascinating to hear from Jessica Gerritsen of Port of Antwerp-Bruges about the Port's NextGen District, an entire district within the Port area 100% dedicated to the circular economy which has already attracted a number of companies, with more to come. Finally, Sophie Beadsmoore of Natrium Capital Limited provided an outlook on fundraising for the chemical recycling of plastics, outlining the main reasons why chemical recycling has fundamentally struggled to scale so far, but also emphasising reasons to be optimistic.

Of great value during AMI events are panel discussions, allowing the audience to listen to different perspectives and to have the opportunity to ask industry experts more detailed questions.

Day one of Chemical Recycling Europe saw a panel discussion on the legislative landscape for chemical recycling in 2024 featuring Julia Roettgerding of the European Commission, Alexander Roeder of Plastics Europe, Christian Krueger of BASF, and Lauriane Veillard of Zero Waste Europe. The panellists discussed the key issues legislators should focus on regarding the development of chemical recycling, as well as the mass balance concept and its benefits and drawbacks.

What emerged was that clear definitions of 'recycling' and 'waste' are required together with clear and transparent legislation. Recycled content targets in particular play a key role in creating demand for both mechanically and chemically recycled material. While consistency and clear rules are elemental to provide the market stability investors require, developing legislation takes time and, given that a new industry is just emerging, legislation can be expected to evolve along with technological and market developments.

The chosen chain of custody approach needs to ensure that there is a level playing field between available technologies. It needs to be transparent, avoid greenwashing and be clearly communicated to stakeholders and consumers. Without legislative support there will be no industry development.

The panel on day 2 discussed driving forces for increased circularity with panellists Sander Defruyt of Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Dana Mosora representing CEFLEX - A Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging, and Raphaël Jaumotte of PETCORE EUROPE.

The discussion evolved around Europe's reportedly leading role where circularity and recycling developments are concerned and what elements have facilitated it to gain this leading position. The focus then shifted to the warnings that have recently been issued regarding Europe's industrial competitiveness and how the a potential European Industrial Deal, together with the Green Deal, can provide opportunities for the recycling industry. How chemical recycling, as the "new kid on the block" can evolve to fit into the broader recycling landscape was another important discussion point, together with a call on the industry to align in order to be able to effectively communicate with each other and a wider audience.

The panellists emphasised the need for a clear long term vision for industry development as well as fact-based information. Dana Mosora provided some valuable information on the CEFLEX - A Circular Economy for Flexible Packaging real world data chemical recycling project, working with data provided by six chemical recyclers to allow for a calculation and modelling of yields in real world conditions.

I am already looking forward to next year's event in June 2025!