Recent revelations help us understand the need for polymer pyrolysis, noting that a very large fraction of the polymers (plastics) that we recycle end up in landfills anyway have outraged some and raised widespread concern about the environmental impact. Add to this the island of plastic found floating in the ocean and the ban on the export of used plastics from the EU, and we have a crisis mentality on the issue. A variety of solutions are under investigation. Among these, polymer pyrolysis – thermochemical breakdown of the polymers into small molecular fragments – holds the most promise in terms of broad application, integration with existing infrastructure, and advancement.
Most commercially manufactured polymers consist of long chains of small repeating units, all of them derived from petroleum. They are designed to be extremely robust and versatile to perform their functions as packaging, containment, or coating. Plastics are also relatively inexpensive since they are derived from that most abundant raw material of the modern world: oil. All of these valuable properties make plastics a mixed blessing since they rely on fossil carbon and survive decades or even centuries in the environment.
Pyrolysis of plastics subjects the polymers to temperatures not normally present in the environment, except far beneath the Earth’s surface or in a fire. Just as the high temperatures present below ground transformed ancient flora and fauna into petroleum, pyrolysis processes raise the temperature of the polymer high enough for the long chains to break into smaller fragments that are amenable to conversion to new, useful products.
While some used plastics can be re-shaped into park benches or surfboards, these applications are lower value, their markets are limited, and the process is not widely applicable to the many different ‘species’ of plastics in the world. Pyrolysis, particularly when guided by a catalyst, can transform a mixture of materials into the same molecular building blocks that were used to make them in the first place. This truly cyclic use of the materials keeps the polymers out of the landfill and out of the ocean. What’s more, polymer pyrolysis facilities could be annexed to already existing petroleum refineries to take advantage of their immense capabilities and scale. This would be much like using recycled automobile oil rather than producing more fossil oil from the ground.
Large renewable energy and biochemical consulting firms certainly have experts in the more common areas of bio and renewable fuels, biomaterials, biomass and biomass power, biomaterials, biochemicals, and biotechnologies. But, they also have expertise in a wide variety of specialty services like expert witness testimony, techno-economic analysis, due diligence, feasibility studies, budgeting, project management, technology assessment, insurance, due diligence, risk management, benchmarking, intellectual property, HAZOP, financial modeling, competitor analysis, and assistance with RIN and Low Carbon Fuel Standards (LCFS) matters. These firms should also be able to assist with other things like Aspen Plus®, logistics, bioreactor design, municipal solid waste remediation, syngas and bio-based product development, carbon credits, climate change analysis, environmental permitting, equipment sales, experimental validations, grant writing, IP strategy, life cycle analysis (LCA), plant operations, plant sales, and auctions, and risk analysis (FMEA).
Lee Enterprises Consulting is the world’s premier bioeconomy consulting group, with over 150 highly qualified experts serving in all these areas. Take a look at our experts and the services we provide. Most of our experts are also available to advise and serve as expert witnesses in bioeconomy litigation matters. We specialize in putting together full-service, interdisciplinary teams with one point of contact for larger projects. Call us at 1+ (501) 833-8511 or email us for more information