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.
BP plans to construct a $25 million pilot plant in the US to prove the technology, before progressing to full-scale commercialization.
Tufan Erginbilgic, BP's Downstream chief executive, said: “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.”
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 (1).
Although PET is one of the most widely recycled types of plastic, less than 60 per cent of the PET used for bottles is collected for recycling and only 6 per cent of the total makes it back into new bottles (2). The rest is either ‘downcycled’, where products are recycled and re-used 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.
These recycled feedstocks can then be used to make new PET packaging that may be recycled again and again. This could reduce the need for downcycling and divert plastic waste from landfill and incineration.
Charles Damianides, vice president of petrochemicals technology, licensing and business development, continued: “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.”
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 (3).
1. Source: Wood MacKenzie Chemicals Data, based on estimates for 2019.
2. Source: BP calculations based on Wood MacKenzie Chemicals Data. PETcollection rates are based on bottle consumption alone; of the 27 million tonnes of PET produced for food and drinks packaging, 23 million tonnes is consumed as bottles and 4 million as thermoformed products, such as food trays.
3. Production of recycled PTA from multiple facilities – amounting to a scale equivalent to a typical virgin PTA plant of around 1 million tonnes – would require total feedstock of many millions of tonnes of opaque and difficult-to-recycle PET packaging. Based on the average weight of specific packaging types suitable for this technology (from 10 to 30 grammes), this feedstock would equate to billions of packaging items.