"Considerably more fossil oil would be consumed without mass balance"
"Chemical recycling has the potential to close the existing gap in circular economy"
Interview with Beate Edl, Project Director Circular Economy, OMV Downstream GmbH
Copyright: OMV Downstream GmbH
Ms. Edl, what is the importance of chemical recycling for OMV?
Beate Edl: Chemical recycling is complementary to mechanical recycling and therefore of high priority for OMV – it is an important cornerstone of our Strategy 2030. It helps us to meet the growing demand for recycled polyolefins. Back in 2009 we developed a laboratory scale process that has since been patented. The ReOil 100 pilot plant is in operations since 2018 and fully integrated in the refinery Schwechat, and this year the next larger ReOil 2000 demo plant will go live.
This plant has a processing capacity of 16,000 tons of plastic waste per year, which is 20 times the capacity of the pilot plant. The next step will be the scale- up to an industrial-scale, commercial plant with a capacity of up to 200,000 tons per year. Furthermore, last year OMV and the technology provider Wood signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the commercial licensing of our ReOil technology. Thereby we enable global licensees to make use of future circular economy solutions.
Beate Edl. Copyright: OMV Downstream GmbH
Which used plastics is this recycling method particularly suitable for?
Edl: We focus on polyolefins; specifically, polyethylene, polypropylene and polystyrene – those have the highest market share of plastics. We do not want to interfere with established mechanical recycling routes and therefore focus on hard-to-recycle plastics that are currently not covered by any recycling activities, for example due to high contamination levels. Today, these waste streams are going to incineration. In comparison to mechanical recycling, which requests mono-streams, chemical recycling can process mixed plastic fractions as well – with our ReOil plants we focus on 2D mixed plastic waste fractions like foils.
What are the environmental benefits of chemical recycling?
Edl: Last year we conducted a life-cycle-assessment that compares chemical recycling with the current end-of-life route incineration. For 2030, this LCA shows that 34 percent of greenhouse gas emissions could be saved if the waste streams, which currently go to incineration, are chemically recycled using ReOil.
This shows that chemical recycling, as an additional technology to existing recycling processes, can make a valuable contribution to reaching our climate targets. The OMV Group also has mechanical recycling plants in its portfolio – we see the added value in the complementary use of different recycling technologies. Chemical recycling has the potential to close the existing gap in circular economy, by recycling waste streams that are not feasible for mechanical recycling and are therefore currently incinerated.
Where does OMV obtain the necessary material flows?
Edl: Regarding the sourcing of feedstock, we are working together with waste companies both in Austria and neighboring countries. Why are we also sourcing feedstock outside of Austria? As said, we do not want to compete with mechanical recyclers. This and the size of the future ReOil plant calls for a broader geographical scope for feedstock sourcing.
Edl: From our point of view, the biggest challenge is the composition of the feedstock, which is very heterogeneous. We are talking about waste streams with a high level of contamination – in addition the quality varies depending on the source. The challenge is to understand how these different feedstock compositions affect the chemical recycling process, as well as the output, the pyrolysis oil. By getting a better understanding of these correlations, the process can be optimized: in particular, to improve the yield. Increasing the output ensures that as much as possible of the waste input is convertible into new plastics and that the process is economically viable.
What should the ideal ration be between mechanical and chemical recycling?
Edl: It is difficult to specify a certain ratio. However, to establish a circular economy in the future, a combination of different recycling technologies is required. There are also clear recycling targets defined on EU level: By 2025, the recycling rate for plastic packaging will be raised to 50 percent, and to 55 percent by 2030. In 2020, an average of around 38 percent of plastic packaging was recycled in the EU. Chemical recycling can help to close this gap by being applied complementary where established recycling routes, such as mechanical recycling, are not feasible.
Why is OMV integrating its chemical recycling plant at the Schwechat refinery site?
Edl: From an economical as well as ecological point of view, it makes sense to integrate chemical recycling plants into existing refinery and petrochemical sites. Thereby, existing assets can be used further, and high safety standards already implemented in refineries and petrochemical sites can be easily extended to the newly integrated plant. For OMV safety standards have absolute priority – since our ReOil plants are fully integrated in the refinery, they are also subject to our high safety standards.