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Plastics Recycling and the Circular Economy: Catalytic and Compatibilization Solutions


New Multi-Client Study

A Substantial Role Will be Played by Catalysis and Compatibilization
In Addressing Plastics Recycling in the Circular Economy!

View Study Brief Here (PPT format)

View Presentation Here (PDF format)

Plastics Recycling and the Circular Economy: Catalytic and Compatibilization Solutions

This TCGR multi-client study was launched in December 2019 and was completed in June 2020. The study’s scope, and specific contents (as depicted in the actual TofC of the presentation), reflect the inputs from a group of “charter” subscribers who indicated their priorities for coverage, areas to be expanded/deepened and focal points for emphasis in opportunity identification. These are leading industrial developers, suppliers, and end-users of technologies and plastics resins addressing recycling and the circular economy .

 There is an intense R&D effort being undertaken by plastics producers, industry consortia and academia globally to understand and appreciate the hurdles to be overcome and to economically resolve a serious improvement in the recyclability of plastics, which has taken center stage in a global debate. It is hoped that this will transform the way plastic products are designed, used, produced and recycled in the EU and other industrial countries. China, the U.S. and Western Europe and other regions are pressing for sustainable solutions to plastic recycling and a drastic reduction of plastic waste to the environment. In this completed study from TCGR, we assist the plastics and polyolefin industries to identify new pipeline technologies and strategic commercial directions which will help speed up their resolutions to these challenges in an economical way. The study addresses current state-of-art (SoA) in technology and commercial development, identifies and addresses progress towards viability in two (2) promising approaches – notably catalytic and compatibilization – and provides strategic guidance on the competitive landscape and future investment. It is a “must have,” industrially-sourced assessment for addressing the current industry need from resin producers, process licensors and catalyst/compatibilizer suppliers from a practical perspective.

The current literature does an adequate job of defining “the challenge” from both a market statistical basis as well as the current plastics industry’s recycling status, i.e. the state-of art (SoA) in recycling technologies. What is clearly missing is a visionary industrially-oriented Technology Roadmap for the next 5-10 years that will concentrate R&D and commercial development efforts to speed up deployment, improving both efficiency and effectiveness of implementation, particularly in mixed plastics waste.

The missing factors addressed more fully by TCGR are:

  • What new pipeline technologies for different segments, e.g. PET, polyolefins, mixed plastics, etc., are likely to be the best directions for producers
    and industry to pursue economically?
  • What do plastic producers currently think about this challenge, and what are their plans to address the issue? Without their support and input,
    the process will undoubtedly be slower.
  • What likely country, regional and global regulations will impact each company’s decision making?

No one disputes this is a decade long challenge! The issues to be resolved go beyond technical to include economic ones, based on the commercial understanding that currently the collection, separation of physical plastics streams, and the conversion back to monomers or recyclable technologies as they stand to date, are not yet ready for “prime time.” In this completed multi-client study, TCGR takes a lead in providing viable technological directions from both pipeline R&D and commercial strategy perspectives.

Two critical approaches analyzed in detail include the following:

  •  New Advanced Catalytic Solutions

A group at Waste Technologies reported the conversion of waste HDPE to liquid hydrocarbon fuel by pyrolysis-catalytic cracking using CuCO3 at 390 °C (Singh et al., 2018). The deconstruction mechanisms are summarized in Figure IV-A-2. Conversion of HDPE to liquid hydrocarbon fuel increased in the presence of CuCO3, which is converted to CuO at the elevated reaction temperature. Basic sites in CuO may generate carbenium ions, resulting in an increase in the olefin yield. Carbenium ions derived from lower hydrocarbons may combine to give higher cyclic or aromatic hydrocarbons.

Figure 1. Mechanisms of waste HD-PE plastic using pyrolysis-catalytic cracking over CuCO3.
  • New Advanced Compatibilizer Solutions

Many industry papers have summarized commercially available compatibilizers including those from The Society of Plastics Industry or SPI (SPI, 2015). The current challenge is not available solutions but rather cost/performance ones for commercial recyclers. Also, one of the challenges is that each batch of mixed plastics has a different composition and most recyclers are not sufficiently sophisticated to be able to understand the chemistry to adjust to these moving targets within the field. No “one-size-fits-all” is a common phrase within the industry.

In block copolymer (BCP) compatibilizers, the blocks can be chemically identical or similar to the blend components to be compatibilized. BCPs comprised of iPP-miscible and PE-miscible blocks are thus viable compatibilizers for PE/iPP blends, since BCPs are thermodynamically driven to immiscible interfaces. The copolymer helps to weld commercial PE and PP together, enables morphological control, and transforms brittle materials into mechanically tough blends (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Block copolymers as non-reactive compatibilizers for PE/iPP blends.
A) Proposed models to explain the adhesive differences between (left) tetrablock,
(middle) high Mn diblock, and (right) low Mn diblock copolymers.
B) Peel strength of PE/iPP blends in the presence of different block copolymer compatibilizers.


The benefits of aggregating the multiple approaches into one study creates an opportunity to extract and determine which approaches or pathways are most beneficial given the local circumstances, providing value to chemical (olefins and other monomer) producers and suppliers of different types of plastics.

Critical topics this study addresses include:

  • State-of Art (SoA) in industry investments and partnerships in existence
  • New pipeline technologies in for the next 5-10 years, including benchmarking
    economics where available, key players, pilots and R&D investments
  • Regional outlooks based on market opportunities and regulatory drivers
  • Strategies for implementation

A key need/justification for this study, and one that TCGR is uniquely capable of delivering, is a comprehensive technical, market and strategic/competitive assessment of approaches to resolving the requirement for “circularity” in plastics.  This study is a “by the industry, for the industry” assessment and a “must have” for future success in the polymers industries globally!

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Additional information, including the complete study presentation (as PDF) and study brief (as PPT), including the actual Table of Contents (with “charter” subscriber inputs)
and the Order Form, are available via the links below or by contacting Steve Deutsch at +1.215.628.4447 or sdeutsch@catalystgrp.com.

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As it does in each of its industrially-focused multi-client studies, TCGR has sought input from “charter” subscribers (i.e., those who signed up prior to study launch) to help shape the report’s final scope/TofC by nominating specific voice of customer and/or study content as well as delineating areas of particular interest for inclusion in the assessment, as depicted in Sections IV thru VII in the actual TofC.

Download PPT

 Download PDF

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 The Catalyst Group Resources (TCGR), a member of The Catalyst Group, is dedicated to monitoring and analyzing technical and commercial developments
in catalysis as they apply to the global refining, petrochemical, fine/specialty chemical, pharmaceutical, polymer/elastomer and environmental industries.