Newsletter – February 2019
Millions of Tons of the World’s Plastic Waste Could Be Turned into Clean Fuels, and Other Products through New Chemical Conversion
The United Nations estimates that more than 8 million tons of plastics flow into the oceans each year. A new chemical conversion process could transform the world’s polyolefin waste, a form of plastic, into useful products, such as clean fuels and other items.
“Our strategy is to create a driving force for recycling by converting polyolefin waste into a wide range of valuable products, including polymers, naphtha (a mixture of hydrocarbons), or clean fuels,” said Linda Wang, the Maxine Spencer Nichols Professor in the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering at Purdue University and leader of the research team developing this technology. “Our conversion technology has the potential to boost the profits of the recycling industry and shrink the world’s plastic waste stock.”
Wang, Kai Jin, a graduate student, and Wan-Ting (Grace) Chen, a postdoctoral researcher at Purdue, are the inventors of the technology, which can convert more than 90 percent of polyolefin waste into many different products, including pure polymers, naphtha, fuels, or monomers. The team is collaborating with Gozdem Kilaz, an assistant professor in the School of Engineering Technology, and her doctoral research assistant, Petr Vozka, in the Fuel Laboratory of Renewable Energy of the School of Engineering Technology, to optimize the conversion process to produce high-quality gasoline or diesel fuels.
The conversion process incorporates selective extraction and hydrothermal liquefaction. Once the plastic is converted into naphtha, it can be used as a feedstock for other chemicals or further separated into specialty solvents or other products. The clean fuels derived from the polyolefin waste generated each year can satisfy 4 percent of the annual demand for gasoline or diesel fuels. A video about the process is available here.
Wang became inspired to create this technology after reading about the plastic waste pollution of the oceans, ground water, and the environment. Of all the plastics produced over the past 65 years (8.3 billion tons), about 12 percent have been incinerated and only 9 percent have been recycled. The remaining 79 percent have gone into landfills or the oceans. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2050 the oceans will hold more plastic waste than fish if the waste continues to be dumped into bodies of water.
Wang said the technology could convert up to 90 percent of the polyolefin plastic. “Plastic waste disposal, whether recycled or thrown away, does not mean the end of the story,” Wang said. “These plastics degrade slowly and release toxic microplastics and chemicals into the land and the water. This is a catastrophe, because once these pollutants are in the oceans, they are impossible to retrieve completely.”
Wang said she hopes her technology will stimulate the packaging and recylcing industry to reduce the rapidly rising amount of plastic waste. She and her team are looking for investors or partners to assist with demonstrating this technology at a commercial scale.
Wang’s technology is patented through the Purdue Research Foundation’s Office of Technology Commercialization, which operates one of the most comprehensive technology transfer programs among leading research universities in the United States.
With thanks to Kelsey Henry, Kurz Purdue Technology Center
This month we’ve been talking to Melissa Fehsenfeld, Brand Marketing Associate of the Consumer Packaging Division at Berry Global.
Tell us about your company. What do you specialize in?
Berry Global is a Fortune 500 global manufacturer and marketer of plastic packaging products. We specialize in plastic rigid packaging, films and other specialty products across many markets including industrial, food and beverage, and healthcare.
Any new products, services or developments that you would like to share with the Packaging community?
We have recently highlighted the capability to incorporate digital printing and interactive packaging into our container product line. This adds to our expansive portfolio of decoration options for packaging.
What trends are you seeing within the packaging industry?
Sustainability prevails as a common topic among consumer brands. We are leaders in lightweighting, and offer a variety of recyclable products, many of which have the ability to contain recycled material. A second trend we are seeing is the demand for premium decoration. This can be achieved through the use of in-mold labels to create high shelf-impact and a premium look.
What are your thoughts on trends such as Automation, Sustainability, Cost vs Quality?
The use of automation is rapidly growing and should be considered in many package designs. Sustainability is here to stay – there are many initiatives around lightweighting, using recycled content, and improving infrastructure to drive the circular economy. Innovation will continue to aid in finding the perfect balance between cost and quality. Considering an alternative manufacturing platform, altering design, or even adding automation may help reduce costs, while keeping quality high.
How are you driving towards more sustainable solutions within the business?
We are leaders in lightweighting products without sacrificing their physical integrity. We are also testing alternative materials such as PLA or other bio-based plastics. We have recently joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste as a founding member. This Alliance began with nearly 30 companies pledging a total of $1.5B to focus on improving infrastructure, cleaning-up, and education, and awareness.
Why do you think an event like Industrial Pack is needed? What do you hope to get out of the event?
Industrial Pack is helpful because it focuses on a particular market where packaging can play a critical role. The same kinds of challenges might be experienced by all of us and it’s good to be able to be in the same place and meet to solve these problems together.
How do you see the broader market developing over the next few years?
We see the broader market working together to drive value and more sustainable packaging solutions across the entire supply chain- everything from filling and automation to transportation and e-commerce.
What was your proudest achievement in packaging in 2018?
For 2018, we enjoyed many achievements. A few highlights included continued innovation surrounding lightweighting, delivery of excellent decoration options, and a continuous improvement mindset around serving our customers.
What will be your main focus for the year to come?
This year’s focus is not much different than that of past years. We will focus on creating the best products with the most value to serve our customers. Sustainability and food preservation is of high importance and we will continue to develop products to meet and exceed the demand for products to satisfy these needs.
What is the biggest change you have seen in the packaging industry in the last 5 years?
We’ve seen a huge shift from a demand for extremely large cavitation to smaller, more customized runs. This changes things drastically for a manufacturer. This shift has started an evolution towards more nimble assets to allow us to serve a range of customers.
What challenges or trends will define [industrial/transit/etc.] packaging in the year to come?
Designing for e-commerce packaging will continue to drive packaging decisions. Creating packaging that will withstand the e-commerce supply chain will prove its importance.
What excites you about being in the packaging industry?
The packaging industry is ever-changing and there is so much opportunity to enhance the consumer experience, while creating a more sustainable solution. We have seen a real appetite for innovation both around lightweighting, decoration, and using more sustainable materials.