NextChem has completed the construction of the first demonstration plant in Italy for the chemical recycling of PET and polyester from textiles, as part of the European Union’s DEMETO project (1). The plant is located in Chieti, in the Abruzzo Technology Park.
The depolymerization technology adopted, based on the reaction of alkaline hydrolysis (2) with the use of microwaves, allows the plant to chemically recycle PET and polyester textile fiber waste and obtain pure monomers to produce new polymers.
The DEMETO project has been co-funded by the European Union under the Horizon 2020 program with NextChem as coordinator of a consortium of 14 partners, covering the entire value chain (NextChem, 3V Tech, SPINDOX UK, Technical University of Denmark, The European Outdoor Group, EuPC, The Fricke and Mallah GmbH, gr3n, H&M Group, NEOGROUP, RECUPRENDA, PETCIA, SUPSI, Synesis).
NextChem is the developer and co-licensor of the depolymerization technology, owned by the Swiss start-up gr3n, as well as designer and constructor of the plant. Various types of materials, including polyester-based textile fibers, will be tested in the plant, which is capable of recycling almost 100% of the incoming material, amounting to one million kg/year.
The project has been supported by an Industrial Advisory Board, which includes companies such as Unilever, Coca-Cola, Oviesse, Danone, Henkel and several others.
This innovative technology could contribute to the solution of some still-unresolved problems in textile waste recycling, such as mixed fibers. In Italy alone, tracked textile waste amounted to 157.7 Kt in 2019, of which 47% consisted of single and mixed synthetic fibers (3). In Italy 5.7% of unsorted waste is composed of textiles (4) with a total estimated at 663 Kta (5). In Europe, each inhabitant uses 26 kg of textile material each year and disposes of 11 kg (6), with a total production of textile waste estimated at about 5 Mt/y.
"We are very proud to have built this plant, the first of its kind in Italy and among the first in Europe, particularly at a time when national systems for the collection and recycling of textile waste are beginning to be created, in Italy and in other European countries, in order to comply with legislation", commented Maire Tecnimont Group and NextChem CEO Pierroberto Folgiero. "We are convinced that this technology can contribute to improve a circular economy model on an industrial scale".
(1) DEMETO: Modular, scalable and high-performance DE-polymerization by MicrowavE TechnolOgy. is funded in the Horizon program, the scientific research and innovation funding instrument of the European Commission, under grant agreement no. 768573.
(2) Splitting process of a compound into its components
(3) REF Research Laboratory Report no.193 of November 2021 entitled Textile waste: strategy and economic instruments are needed
(4) ISPRA, Istituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale (Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research)
(5) National Waste Management Program, March 2022, MiTE (Italian Minister for the Ecological Transition)
(6) Report European Parliament: The impact of textile production and waste on the environment, December 2020, Updated March 2021