In Japan, SEKISUI CHEMICAL CO. LTD and Sumitomo Chemical Co. Ltd have recently agreed to form a strategic alliance to benefit society by deploying technology for manufacturing polyolefin using waste as a raw material. This alliance combines SEKISUI CHEMICAL's production technology for transforming waste into ethanol with Sumitomo Chemical’s technological know-how in manufacturing polyolefin, thereby promoting circular economy initiatives to chemically recycle waste into polyolefin.
According to a statement, pilot production will begin in fiscal 2022, with SEKISUI CHEMICAL turning waste into ethanol, and Sumitomo Chemical using this ethanol as raw material for polyolefin with a full-scale market launch of this production method is expected in fiscal 2025.
Based on Japan’s Ministry of the Environment “Reports on surveys of transboundary movement of waste, and of the actual status of the recycling volume of waste, etc” SEKISUI CHEMICAL estimates that Japan generates approximately 60 million tonnes of combustible waste each year.
The amount of combustible waste is significantly larger than the amount of fossil fuels used to produce plastic materials in Japan, which according to the “Plastic Products, Plastic Waste and Resource Recovery“ report from Plastic Waste Management Institute (PWMI) in Japan is approximately 30 million tonnes annually.
However, the effort to reuse combustible waste is yet to be fully implemented, and most waste is currently incinerated or buried in landfills. Recycling efforts have been hampered by difficulty in utilizing waste as an industrial raw material since the composition and quality of combustible waste varies widely.
Merging developed technologies
In December 2017, SEKISUI CHEMICAL, in cooperation with US-headed bioprocess developer LanzaTech Inc., has succeeded in developing a new production technology. This technology enables gasification of combustible waste accumulated at waste disposal facilities into carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) without the need for waste separation and converts these gases into ethanol using a microbial catalyst, without the need for heat or pressure.
Meanwhile, Sumitomo Chemical has developed and accumulated, over many years in petrochemical field, proprietary technology, and know-how, and is now developing technology to manufacture polyolefin from ethylene using waste-derived ethanol as a raw material. The company aims to create a new value chain contributing to a circular economy, by providing its customers with the chemically recycled polyolefin.
This alliance will make it possible to introduce this waste-derived ethanol into the production cycle of organic chemical materials, such as daily-use plastics, and will enable the creation of a circular economy that uses waste as a raw material to manufacture polyolefin. This will help reduce the use of new fossil fuels, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from incinerating waste, and plastic waste, thereby contributing to a sustainable society.