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BP to invest US$25 million in pilot to chemically recover unrecyclable PET

Global oil and gas major BP has developed an enhanced recycling technology, BP Infinia, that enables currently unrecyclable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste to be diverted from landfill or incineration and instead transformed back into new, virgin-quality feedstocks. The company plans to construct a US$25 million pilot plant in the United States (US) to prove the technology, before progressing to full-scale commercialization.

BP Infinia technology is designed to turn difficult-to-recycle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic waste – such as black food trays and coloured bottles – into recycled feedstocks that are interchangeable with those made from traditional hydrocarbon sources. The company plans to invest US$25 million in a pilot plant in Naperville, Illinois (image courtesy BP).

According to Wood MacKenzie Chemicals Data, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most commonly used plastic for beverage and rigid food packaging. Around 27 million tonnes of PET a year are used in these applications globally, with the majority – around 23 million tonnes – used in bottles.

We see our Infinia technology as a game-changer for the recycling of PET plastics. It is an important stepping stone in enabling a stronger circular economy in the polyester industry and helping to reduce unmanaged plastic waste, said Tufan Erginbilgic, Chief Executive, BP Downstream.

Targeting difficult-to-recycle PET

Although PET is one of the most widely recycled types of plastic, BP estimates that less than 60 percent of the PET used for bottles is collected for recycling and only 6 percent of the total makes it back into new bottles. The rest is either ‘downcycled’, where products are recycled and reused once before turning into waste, or destined for landfill and incineration.

BP Infinia technology is designed to turn difficult-to-recycle PET plastic waste – such as black food trays and coloured bottles – into recycled feedstocks that are interchangeable with those made from traditional hydrocarbon sources.

BP’s enhanced recycling technology involves chemically converting complex PET plastic waste back to original monomer feedstocks through a depolymerization process.
The technology also aims to purify these ‘building blocks’ monomers into recycled purified terephthalic acid (rPTA) and recycled monoethylene glycol (rMEG) which would then be interchangeable with those produced from traditional hydrocarbon feedstocks.

These recycled feedstocks can then be used to make new PET packaging that may be recycled again and again or be used to manufacture high-performance polyester for packaging, clothing and industrial fibre products and applications. This could reduce the need for downcycling and divert plastic waste from landfills and incineration.

BP is committed to fully developing and commercializing this technology. We have long experience and a proven track record of scaling technology and we firmly believe that this innovation can ultimately contribute to making all types of polyester waste infinitely recyclable, said Charles Damianides, Vice President of Petrochemicals Technology, Licensing and Business Development.

Pilot plant planned for Illinois

BP’s new pilot plant is planned to be located at its research and development hub in Naperville, Illinois. It is expected to be operational in late 2020 to prove the technology on a continuous basis.

BP sees the potential to develop multiple full-scale commercial plants using this technology around the world. If deployed at scale in a number of facilities, BP estimates that the technology has the potential to prevent billions of PET bottles and trays from ending up in landfill or incineration every year

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