Chemical recycling of plastic waste

From plastic waste to new chemical products

Plastics do have proven benefits during their use phase – for example preservation of food loss in packaging applications, lightweight construction of vehicles, and building insulation. Plastic waste, however, and in particular plastic waste in the context of marine littering, is a major global challenge. There is also increasing regulatory pressure regarding recycling targets and recyclability on the one hand and strong commitments of our customers towards increasing the share of recycled material in their offerings on the other hand. Solving these challenges requires innovation and joint efforts globally across the value chain. We will contribute to tackling this.

Since mechanical recycling is limited, e.g. due to high sorting requirements and decreasing material quality in each cycle, BASF has taken up this challenge and develops innovative technologies that promote recycling of plastics. This includes research and development on new materials and additives that facilitate recycling processes as well as several chemical recycling processes to create value out of plastic waste. Chemical recycling allows to recycle plastics for which there are no recycling solutions or missing capacities today and is therefore complementary to mechanical recycling.

Example for chemical recycling: The ChemCycling circle

Chemical recycling can help reduce the proportion of plastic waste which ends up in landfill or incineration. With chemical recycling, fossil resources for chemical production can be replaced with recycled material from plastic waste. How does it work? Plastic waste will be transformed into feedstock or monomers, e.g. by using thermochemical processes, hydrolysis or solvolysis. The feedstock can be used in the production of new plastics. Based on the mass balance approach, the content of recycled material is allocated to the product by a third-party audited methodology. The result: Products with excellent quality and performance based on recycled plastic waste. 

With eco-efficiency analysis we ensure that innovative approaches create value for the environment. Moreover, chemical recycling represents exciting business opportunities for us and our customers, as high-quality plastics are obtained. 

Video: ChemCycling – first prototypes

The ChemCyclingTM project

With the ChemCyclingTM project, BASF aims to manufacture products from chemically recycled plastic waste on an industrial scale. As we focus on plastic waste for which no high value recycling processes are established yet, ChemCyclingTM is complementary to mechanical recycling. Examples of waste plastics which are difficult to recycle mechanically include plastics with residues, multi-layer food packaging or composite plastics used in the automotive and construction industries.

In the ChemCyclingTM project, we cooperate with partners who use thermochemical processes to transform the plastic waste into raw material (pyrolysis oil). In the pilot phase, BASF has sourced first batches of pyrolysis oil, fed it into the Verbund and manufactured first prototypes with customers. These include mozzarella cheese packaging, transparent refrigerator components and insulation boxes for sensitive applications. In 2019, BASF invested into Quantafuel, a Norwegian start-up company and a specialist for pyrolysis of mixed plastic waste and purification of the resulting oil.  With the investment in Quantafuel, we are now moving to the next stage. The partnership is part of BASF’s efforts to develop chemical recycling as a business. 

However, any new recycling process needs acceptance as recycling from market and regulators. There are many open questions with regards to technology, economy and regulation. We closely engage with the relevant stakeholders to tackle these challenges.

ChemCycling presentation at the Petrochemical and Refining Congress 2020

At the Petrochemical and Refining Congress in Vienna on May 18-20, 2020, project leader Christian Lach will present ChemCycling in the session "Making the industry future clean. Alternative fuel production."

In February 2019, BASF took part in a policy briefing on the topic of "Chemical Recycling - the missing piece to plastics circularity", organized by a member of the European Parliament. Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, gave the keynote speech. More than 50 stakeholders were present, among them policy makers from the European Parliament, the European Commission, civil society and industry.