In the UK, Mura Technology has opened the world’s first commercial-scale "HydroPRS" advanced plastic recycling plant in Teesside, to key representatives from the advanced recycling and plastic manufacturing value chains. The event, held on October 26, 2023, marks the beginning of commissioning, with the first recycled hydrocarbon products expected to be delivered to Mura’s offtake partners in early 2024.
The new purpose-built facility at the Wilton International industrial site in Teesside will process flexible and rigid mixed plastics, including films, that are currently considered ‘unrecyclable’.
Developed by Austrialia-based Licella Holdings Pty Ltd, the proprietary HydroPRS process complements existing mechanical recycling and enables a circular plastics economy through the production of recycled plastic feedstock for the manufacture of new plastic.
The site has the capacity to produce 20,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) of recycled liquid hydrocarbon products, with the scope to expand production capacity to over three times this initial size.
The site will provide up to 50 direct jobs, having created approximately 150 jobs during the build and commissioning phases, and approximately 100 further jobs within the related infrastructure to support operations.
Today’s pre-commissioning open day of our first-of-its-kind, next-generation recycling facility is a groundbreaking achievement and the culmination of four years of dedication. Our HydroPRS process is unlocking a new market for plastic waste, creating value and keeping both plastic and carbon in circularity. The technology works alongside existing mechanical recycling to ensure no plastic types are considered ‘unrecyclable’ and require incineration or landfilling. With support from our partners, the Teesside site will be the first in Mura’s global roll-out, helping in the fight against the plastic pollution and global warming crises and acting as a launchpad for the one million tonnes of annual recycling capacity that Mura plans to have in operation and development in this decade, remarked Dr Steve Mahon, CEO of Mura Technology.
Unlimited recycling of single-use plastic
Unlike pyrolysis, the proprietary hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) technology utilizes supercritical water (ie water under high pressure and high temperature) to convert post-consumer, multi-layered, flexible, and rigid plastics such as films, pots, tubs, and trays, which are largely considered ‘unrecyclable’ through other methods, into high yields of stable, premium hydrocarbon feedstocks.
Through this process, there is no limit to the number of times the same material can be recycled – meaning HydroPRS has the potential to significantly reduce single-use plastics and permanently increase material circularity in the plastics industry.
By providing a route to recycling these materials, Mura is creating a complementary process to sit alongside traditional mechanical recycling, as highlighted in a recent technical report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
The use of plastic, particularly in single-use packaging (SUP), has overwhelmed recycling and waste systems globally. Recycling rates for plastic packaging vary globally with the UK at 50 percent and the US at only 13 percent.
Poor waste management has led to plastic entering the environment. Durability means plastic remains in rivers and seas for years, slowly breaking up into microplastics.
The harmful impacts of plastic pollution on both human health and marine life are only just starting to be understood.
Significant LCA results
Independent Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) based on the first site at Teesside have shown the HydroPRS process provides an 80 percent carbon emissions saving by diverting ‘unrecyclable’ plastic away from waste incineration.
When compared to fossil oil-based feedstock, HydroPRS produces products with an equivalent or lower Global Warming Potential (GWP) and saves up to five barrels of oil for every tonne of plastic waste processed.
Mura has been supported by investment from blue-chip companies across the plastic recycling value chain including KBR, Dow, CPChem, LG Chem, and igus GmbH, alongside funding from UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge and the Government’s Future Fund.
These partnerships have enabled Mura to begin scaling worldwide, with plans in development for sites in the USA and at Dow’s Böhlen site in Germany.
Alongside these investments, the company has secured partnerships with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, LG Chem, and GS Caltex Corporation for the development of HydroPRS facilities under license in Japan and South Korea respectively.
16 years in the making
Commenting on the milestone development in the UK, Australia’s Licella Holdings says that it “congratulates Mura Technology on reaching a significant milestone on its path to global commercialization of its HydroPRS advanced plastic recycling process.”
Mura’s first 20,000-tonne HydroPRS commercial facility builds upon 16 years of technology development by Licella into its Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) platform, said Licella in a statement.
Licella’s pioneering Cat-HTR platform is an innovative form of advanced recycling called hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), using supercritical water to unlock a continuous circular economy for plastic that would otherwise be burnt or buried.
In this way, it complements existing mechanical recycling and helps reduce the reliance on virgin plastic produced from fossil fuels.