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Waste plastics

Chemcycling of waste to hydrogen

Tim Reckmann, pixelio.de

The thermochemical processes that yield syngas (gasification, reforming, and pyrolysis) differ from incineration, in which waste is combusted to yield steam, carbon dioxide and ash.

Thermochemical processing of waste does produce some carbon dioxide, but the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regards incineration of the biogenic fraction of waste as carbon dioxide neutral. Animal carcasses, scrap wood, waste vegetable oils and post-consumer wastepaper meet this definition. So, a large portion of the hydrogen produced can be regarded as renewable.

Organic materials ranging from municipal solid waste, biomass, sewage, manufacturing waste, plastic waste, hospital waste, agricultural and slaughterhouse waste are suitable feedstocks. Integrated pyrolysis, reforming and gasification have a significant environmental advantage over incineration: the oxygen-deficient atmosphere prevents the formation dioxins and furans which are highly toxic pollutants.

After removal of recyclables, the waste is shredded and fed into the first thermochemical processing reactor stage which is pyrolysis. The reactor operates at around 750 °C in the absence of air. The feedstock is thermally decomposed into gaseous, solid, and liquid components.

As the gases leave the pyrolysis reactor, steam is added to enable reforming and cracking reactions. These generate hydrogen and break heavy tars to short-chain hydrocarbons. Reforming generally takes place at around 920 °C.

As a third thermochemical processing stage, a partial oxidation reactor (POX) can be used. The POX reactor is fed with pure oxygen, rather than air, to avoid NOx generation. NOx causes materials selection challenges for the process equipment and contributes to air pollution. In the POX reactor a controlled amount of oxygen is added – less than the amount required for complete combustion. This ensures that carbon monoxide is produced in preference to carbon dioxide.

POX destroys tars and other large hydrocarbons due to the high temperature operation and the presence of a controlled amount of oxygen. Syngas leaving the exothermic POX reactor is at a very high temperature. This is another benefit of using POX in the overall process. Recovery of heat from the syngas with a radiant/convective heat exchanger or direct quench improves the overall process efficiency. The heat can be used to produce steam for power generation or process heating.

Typical syngas clean-up and conditioning processes include cyclones and filters for particulates removal followed by wet scrubbing to remove fine particulates, ammonia, and chlorides. Solid absorbents such as activated carbon may also be used for mercury and trace heavy metal removal.

Fischer-Tropsch conversion of the clean syngas to produce methanol or liquid fuels is a possible next step in the process. On the other hand, if hydrogen is the target, the syngas is fed to water gas shift (WGS) reactors which progressively increase the ratio of hydrogen to carbon monoxide in the syngas.

To maximise the hydrogen yield, the WGS reaction is carried out in two stages. In the first stage, a high-temperature shift (HTS) is performed at 300–450 °C. That is followed by a low-temperature shift (LTS) reaction operated at 180–230 °C. Steam injection can be used to optimise the reaction conditions.

Finally, pressure swing adsorption (PSA) is used to separate pure hydrogen from the syngas. CO and some hydrogen exit the PSA as ‘tail-gas’ which can be burned with some additional natural gas in a mixed-fuel burner system to create the energy that is required for the endothermic pyrolysis and reforming reactions.

The PSA processes generates a product stream containing hydrogen at 98 to 99.999% purity. At the lower end of that purity range, hydrogen can be used for industrial and chemical processes. At the higher end of that purity range, the hydrogen can be used in PEM fuel cells for cars, buses and trains.

Alternatively, Hydrogen can be fed to a Haber Bosch reactor to produce ammonia which is a feedstock for urea fertilizer production and an energy vector. Ammonia and hydrogen emit zero carbon dioxide when they are burned. So, they can help with decarbonisation, and the battle against climate change.

Chemcycling of waste to hydrogen

Tim Reckmann, pixelio.de

The thermochemical processes that yield syngas (gasification, reforming, and pyrolysis) differ from incineration, in which waste is combusted to yield steam, carbon dioxide and ash.

Thermochemical processing of waste does produce some carbon dioxide, but the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regards incineration of the biogenic fraction of waste as carbon dioxide neutral. Animal carcasses, scrap wood, waste vegetable oils and post-consumer wastepaper meet this definition. So, a large portion of the hydrogen produced can be regarded as renewable.

Organic materials ranging from municipal solid waste, biomass, sewage, manufacturing waste, plastic waste, hospital waste, agricultural and slaughterhouse waste are suitable feedstocks. Integrated pyrolysis, reforming and gasification have a significant environmental advantage over incineration: the oxygen-deficient atmosphere prevents the formation dioxins and furans which are highly toxic pollutants.

After removal of recyclables, the waste is shredded and fed into the first thermochemical processing reactor stage which is pyrolysis. The reactor operates at around 750 °C in the absence of air. The feedstock is thermally decomposed into gaseous, solid, and liquid components.

As the gases leave the pyrolysis reactor, steam is added to enable reforming and cracking reactions. These generate hydrogen and break heavy tars to short-chain hydrocarbons. Reforming generally takes place at around 920 °C.

As a third thermochemical processing stage, a partial oxidation reactor (POX) can be used. The POX reactor is fed with pure oxygen, rather than air, to avoid NOx generation. NOx causes materials selection challenges for the process equipment and contributes to air pollution. In the POX reactor a controlled amount of oxygen is added – less than the amount required for complete combustion. This ensures that carbon monoxide is produced in preference to carbon dioxide.

POX destroys tars and other large hydrocarbons due to the high temperature operation and the presence of a controlled amount of oxygen. Syngas leaving the exothermic POX reactor is at a very high temperature. This is another benefit of using POX in the overall process. Recovery of heat from the syngas with a radiant/convective heat exchanger or direct quench improves the overall process efficiency. The heat can be used to produce steam for power generation or process heating.

Typical syngas clean-up and conditioning processes include cyclones and filters for particulates removal followed by wet scrubbing to remove fine particulates, ammonia, and chlorides. Solid absorbents such as activated carbon may also be used for mercury and trace heavy metal removal.

Fischer-Tropsch conversion of the clean syngas to produce methanol or liquid fuels is a possible next step in the process. On the other hand, if hydrogen is the target, the syngas is fed to water gas shift (WGS) reactors which progressively increase the ratio of hydrogen to carbon monoxide in the syngas.

To maximise the hydrogen yield, the WGS reaction is carried out in two stages. In the first stage, a high-temperature shift (HTS) is performed at 300–450 °C. That is followed by a low-temperature shift (LTS) reaction operated at 180–230 °C. Steam injection can be used to optimise the reaction conditions.

Finally, pressure swing adsorption (PSA) is used to separate pure hydrogen from the syngas. CO and some hydrogen exit the PSA as ‘tail-gas’ which can be burned with some additional natural gas in a mixed-fuel burner system to create the energy that is required for the endothermic pyrolysis and reforming reactions.

The PSA processes generates a product stream containing hydrogen at 98 to 99.999% purity. At the lower end of that purity range, hydrogen can be used for industrial and chemical processes. At the higher end of that purity range, the hydrogen can be used in PEM fuel cells for cars, buses and trains.

Alternatively, Hydrogen can be fed to a Haber Bosch reactor to produce ammonia which is a feedstock for urea fertilizer production and an energy vector. Ammonia and hydrogen emit zero carbon dioxide when they are burned. So, they can help with decarbonisation, and the battle against climate change.

FEAD participates in the European Parliament hearing on plastics

Waste management activities are integral to circular industrial chains and have a crucial role to play to ensure the circularity of our economies. The European private waste management sector, represented by FEAD, has a clear understanding of the environmental, health, and economic impacts of plastics and microplastics. Plastic waste will remain a reality despite proposed measures to limit the relentless increase of plastic production and consumption. FEAD strongly advocates to have a regulatory framework at EU level that would result in a sound management of plastic waste. In particular, we emphasise the following:

  • The current use of excessive virgin plastic needs to be replaced by a circular model, whereby plastics already introduced into the economy are reused through recycling and recovery;
  • Mandatory recycled content in priority sectors (packaging, automotive, construction products), and green public procurement rules can ensure a strong and long-lasting demand and boost the market for plastic recyclates. The rules on Eco-design play a key role in the recyclability of plastic products, because they stipulate the avoidance or limitation of additives and hazardous substances from the very start of the product value chain;
  • Closing the plastic loop within the EU is dependent on safe and efficient intra-EU waste shipment rules and on greater law enforcement efforts preventing illegal exports and waste crime;
  • To stop the leakage of plastic waste and consequently of microplastics we need to have a better collection and separation system and improve recycling rates. Biodegradable and bio-based plastics are not necessarily a solution, depending upon their impact on the environment, as most plastics do not degrade, but cause litter and end up in smaller pieces.

    Peter Kurth, FEAD’s President states: “A recent study for the European Parliament showed that € 630 million is spent every year across Europe to clean plastic waste from coasts and beaches while the failure to recycle costs the European economy € 105 billion. This is evidence that tells us that collecting, recycling, recovering is the only solution moving forward. Over the next 10 years, our industry is ready to invest € 10 billion in plastic collection and recycling facilities, provided there is enough economic viability in the uptake of plastic recyclates. Pull measures, such as mandatory recycled contents and green public procurement, are needed to create a true shock on demand for recyclates. Large scale and appropriate funding for selective collection and sorting is vital. And finally, safe exports are also crucial to ship plastic waste to places where they will be further treated and reprocessed.”

FEAD participates in the European Parliament hearing on plastics

Waste management activities are integral to circular industrial chains and have a crucial role to play to ensure the circularity of our economies. The European private waste management sector, represented by FEAD, has a clear understanding of the environmental, health, and economic impacts of plastics and microplastics. Plastic waste will remain a reality despite proposed measures to limit the relentless increase of plastic production and consumption. FEAD strongly advocates to have a regulatory framework at EU level that would result in a sound management of plastic waste. In particular, we emphasise the following:

  • The current use of excessive virgin plastic needs to be replaced by a circular model, whereby plastics already introduced into the economy are reused through recycling and recovery;
  • Mandatory recycled content in priority sectors (packaging, automotive, construction products), and green public procurement rules can ensure a strong and long-lasting demand and boost the market for plastic recyclates. The rules on Eco-design play a key role in the recyclability of plastic products, because they stipulate the avoidance or limitation of additives and hazardous substances from the very start of the product value chain;
  • Closing the plastic loop within the EU is dependent on safe and efficient intra-EU waste shipment rules and on greater law enforcement efforts preventing illegal exports and waste crime;
  • To stop the leakage of plastic waste and consequently of microplastics we need to have a better collection and separation system and improve recycling rates. Biodegradable and bio-based plastics are not necessarily a solution, depending upon their impact on the environment, as most plastics do not degrade, but cause litter and end up in smaller pieces.

    Peter Kurth, FEAD’s President states: “A recent study for the European Parliament showed that € 630 million is spent every year across Europe to clean plastic waste from coasts and beaches while the failure to recycle costs the European economy € 105 billion. This is evidence that tells us that collecting, recycling, recovering is the only solution moving forward. Over the next 10 years, our industry is ready to invest € 10 billion in plastic collection and recycling facilities, provided there is enough economic viability in the uptake of plastic recyclates. Pull measures, such as mandatory recycled contents and green public procurement, are needed to create a true shock on demand for recyclates. Large scale and appropriate funding for selective collection and sorting is vital. And finally, safe exports are also crucial to ship plastic waste to places where they will be further treated and reprocessed.”

FEAD participates in the European Parliament hearing on plastics

Waste management activities are integral to circular industrial chains and have a crucial role to play to ensure the circularity of our economies. The European private waste management sector, represented by FEAD, has a clear understanding of the environmental, health, and economic impacts of plastics and microplastics. Plastic waste will remain a reality despite proposed measures to limit the relentless increase of plastic production and consumption. FEAD strongly advocates to have a regulatory framework at EU level that would result in a sound management of plastic waste. In particular, we emphasise the following:

  • The current use of excessive virgin plastic needs to be replaced by a circular model, whereby plastics already introduced into the economy are reused through recycling and recovery;
  • Mandatory recycled content in priority sectors (packaging, automotive, construction products), and green public procurement rules can ensure a strong and long-lasting demand and boost the market for plastic recyclates. The rules on Eco-design play a key role in the recyclability of plastic products, because they stipulate the avoidance or limitation of additives and hazardous substances from the very start of the product value chain;
  • Closing the plastic loop within the EU is dependent on safe and efficient intra-EU waste shipment rules and on greater law enforcement efforts preventing illegal exports and waste crime;
  • To stop the leakage of plastic waste and consequently of microplastics we need to have a better collection and separation system and improve recycling rates. Biodegradable and bio-based plastics are not necessarily a solution, depending upon their impact on the environment, as most plastics do not degrade, but cause litter and end up in smaller pieces.

    Peter Kurth, FEAD’s President states: “A recent study for the European Parliament showed that € 630 million is spent every year across Europe to clean plastic waste from coasts and beaches while the failure to recycle costs the European economy € 105 billion. This is evidence that tells us that collecting, recycling, recovering is the only solution moving forward. Over the next 10 years, our industry is ready to invest € 10 billion in plastic collection and recycling facilities, provided there is enough economic viability in the uptake of plastic recyclates. Pull measures, such as mandatory recycled contents and green public procurement, are needed to create a true shock on demand for recyclates. Large scale and appropriate funding for selective collection and sorting is vital. And finally, safe exports are also crucial to ship plastic waste to places where they will be further treated and reprocessed.”

RepescaPlas wants to achieve products frommarine litte

The RepescaPlas project has ended its third year with a total of 4,218 kg of marine litter recovered from the ports of Marín in Galicia, La Restinga in El Hierro and Gandia in Valencia by fishermen’s guilds and associations.

As in previous years, the items recovered were classified by marine litter type using the MARNOBA platform at the ports themselves. Samples of the most abundant type, i.e. plastics, were sent to AIMPLAS to be categorized by the nature of the materials and to gain more knowledge about the plastics found, and to the Universidade de Vigo for toxicological analysis. The routes taken by the boats that delivered most marine litter to the port were monitored to allow the Asociación Vertidos Cero (Zero Waste Association) to draw up a map of the areas where this litter is being recovered and to establish the litter density (items/km2).

The samples received by AIMPLAS, most of which consisted of PET and low-density polyethylene, have helped the institute make progress towards the development of technologies to recover these materials and convert them into new resources, despite their extreme damage from exposure to the marine environment and the difficulty of reintroducing them into the value chain through mechanical recycling. To that end, the items were initially classified using optical sorting equipment before undergoing a pyrolysis process. This resulted in a solid fraction suitable for the synthesis of activated carbon or lampblack and a liquid fraction whose composition allowed it to be recovered as a fuel and thus used on the fishing vessels themselves. This pyrolysis liquid can be subjected to different chemical processes to obtain monomers of particular interest to the plastics industry.

Meanwhile, the Universidade de Vigo carried out a toxicological analysis in which two versions of the same product, one new and one recovered from the sea, were compared. The results did not detect toxicity levels for any of the marine organisms that usually come into contact with this waste.

The RepescaPlas project is being carried out with the collaboration of the Biodiversity Foundation and the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge through the Pleamar programme and involves the participation of AIMPLAS, the Asociación Vertidos Cero, the Fishermen’s Association of Gandia, the Fishermen’s Association of la Restinga, the Valenciaport Foundation, the Port of Marín and the Universidade de Vigo. It is co-funded by the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP).

RepescaPlas wants to achieve products frommarine litte

The RepescaPlas project has ended its third year with a total of 4,218 kg of marine litter recovered from the ports of Marín in Galicia, La Restinga in El Hierro and Gandia in Valencia by fishermen’s guilds and associations.

As in previous years, the items recovered were classified by marine litter type using the MARNOBA platform at the ports themselves. Samples of the most abundant type, i.e. plastics, were sent to AIMPLAS to be categorized by the nature of the materials and to gain more knowledge about the plastics found, and to the Universidade de Vigo for toxicological analysis. The routes taken by the boats that delivered most marine litter to the port were monitored to allow the Asociación Vertidos Cero (Zero Waste Association) to draw up a map of the areas where this litter is being recovered and to establish the litter density (items/km2).

The samples received by AIMPLAS, most of which consisted of PET and low-density polyethylene, have helped the institute make progress towards the development of technologies to recover these materials and convert them into new resources, despite their extreme damage from exposure to the marine environment and the difficulty of reintroducing them into the value chain through mechanical recycling. To that end, the items were initially classified using optical sorting equipment before undergoing a pyrolysis process. This resulted in a solid fraction suitable for the synthesis of activated carbon or lampblack and a liquid fraction whose composition allowed it to be recovered as a fuel and thus used on the fishing vessels themselves. This pyrolysis liquid can be subjected to different chemical processes to obtain monomers of particular interest to the plastics industry.

Meanwhile, the Universidade de Vigo carried out a toxicological analysis in which two versions of the same product, one new and one recovered from the sea, were compared. The results did not detect toxicity levels for any of the marine organisms that usually come into contact with this waste.

The RepescaPlas project is being carried out with the collaboration of the Biodiversity Foundation and the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge through the Pleamar programme and involves the participation of AIMPLAS, the Asociación Vertidos Cero, the Fishermen’s Association of Gandia, the Fishermen’s Association of la Restinga, the Valenciaport Foundation, the Port of Marín and the Universidade de Vigo. It is co-funded by the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP).

RepescaPlas wants to achieve products frommarine litte

The RepescaPlas project has ended its third year with a total of 4,218 kg of marine litter recovered from the ports of Marín in Galicia, La Restinga in El Hierro and Gandia in Valencia by fishermen’s guilds and associations.

As in previous years, the items recovered were classified by marine litter type using the MARNOBA platform at the ports themselves. Samples of the most abundant type, i.e. plastics, were sent to AIMPLAS to be categorized by the nature of the materials and to gain more knowledge about the plastics found, and to the Universidade de Vigo for toxicological analysis. The routes taken by the boats that delivered most marine litter to the port were monitored to allow the Asociación Vertidos Cero (Zero Waste Association) to draw up a map of the areas where this litter is being recovered and to establish the litter density (items/km2).

The samples received by AIMPLAS, most of which consisted of PET and low-density polyethylene, have helped the institute make progress towards the development of technologies to recover these materials and convert them into new resources, despite their extreme damage from exposure to the marine environment and the difficulty of reintroducing them into the value chain through mechanical recycling. To that end, the items were initially classified using optical sorting equipment before undergoing a pyrolysis process. This resulted in a solid fraction suitable for the synthesis of activated carbon or lampblack and a liquid fraction whose composition allowed it to be recovered as a fuel and thus used on the fishing vessels themselves. This pyrolysis liquid can be subjected to different chemical processes to obtain monomers of particular interest to the plastics industry.

Meanwhile, the Universidade de Vigo carried out a toxicological analysis in which two versions of the same product, one new and one recovered from the sea, were compared. The results did not detect toxicity levels for any of the marine organisms that usually come into contact with this waste.

The RepescaPlas project is being carried out with the collaboration of the Biodiversity Foundation and the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge through the Pleamar programme and involves the participation of AIMPLAS, the Asociación Vertidos Cero, the Fishermen’s Association of Gandia, the Fishermen’s Association of la Restinga, the Valenciaport Foundation, the Port of Marín and the Universidade de Vigo. It is co-funded by the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP).

EU microplastic ban just got a step closer, but has major loopholes

The European Commission has pledged to ban microplastic from cosmetics, paints, detergents, some farm, medical and other products to prevent 500,000 tonnes polluting mostly rivers and seas. The legal process moved forward on Tuesday when a detailed proposal was presented by ECHA to the Commission. The legal restriction is expected to become law next year.

But following industry lobbying, the proposal has major loopholes, according to the Rethink Plastic alliance of environmental groups. Some sectors could get up to 8 years to drop microplastic, while ‘biodegradable’ microplastic that has not been shown to degrade in the environment could escape the ban. The 500,000 tonnes target will be impossible to achieve unless the proposal is improved, they calculated.

European Environmental Bureau chemicals policy officer Elise Vitali said: “Microplastic pollution is everywhere: in our drinking water, our fields, filling the air in cities and even inside our bodies. The EU is right to build on its reputation of tackling plastic pollution with this new ban. But it must avoid being sidetracked by industry-sponsored loopholes. We want a quick and broad restriction with no green light for unproven biodegradable plastic.”

Hélène Duguy, chemicals lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The EU promised to turn off the taps on microplastic pollution. Take sport pitches – it’s a gigantic source of microplastics pollution and it’s now up to the Commission to make sure that a full ban is in order. When it comes to cosmetics – another well-known source of this pollution – the Commission needs to reject the lenient proposal that would give the cosmetics industry a free pass to continue business as usual until 2028, even where alternatives are available.”

Microplastic pollution is irreversible and causes considerable harm to the environment, with potential grave consequences for humans. EU scientific advisors have recognised that microplastics pose an unacceptable risk, which justifies a comprehensive ban.

The groups are urging the Commission to adopt a broad restriction that covers all microplastics in all sectors and uses.

The proposal is now in the hands of the Commission’s industry department, which has not always shown ambition on chemicals policy, the NGOs said. The Commission has until late May 2021 to draft the restriction text, which will then go to a vote of member state experts. The European Parliament and Council of Ministers then have three months to object, but rarely do.

EU microplastic ban just got a step closer, but has major loopholes

The European Commission has pledged to ban microplastic from cosmetics, paints, detergents, some farm, medical and other products to prevent 500,000 tonnes polluting mostly rivers and seas. The legal process moved forward on Tuesday when a detailed proposal was presented by ECHA to the Commission. The legal restriction is expected to become law next year.

But following industry lobbying, the proposal has major loopholes, according to the Rethink Plastic alliance of environmental groups. Some sectors could get up to 8 years to drop microplastic, while ‘biodegradable’ microplastic that has not been shown to degrade in the environment could escape the ban. The 500,000 tonnes target will be impossible to achieve unless the proposal is improved, they calculated.

European Environmental Bureau chemicals policy officer Elise Vitali said: “Microplastic pollution is everywhere: in our drinking water, our fields, filling the air in cities and even inside our bodies. The EU is right to build on its reputation of tackling plastic pollution with this new ban. But it must avoid being sidetracked by industry-sponsored loopholes. We want a quick and broad restriction with no green light for unproven biodegradable plastic.”

Hélène Duguy, chemicals lawyer at ClientEarth, said: “The EU promised to turn off the taps on microplastic pollution. Take sport pitches – it’s a gigantic source of microplastics pollution and it’s now up to the Commission to make sure that a full ban is in order. When it comes to cosmetics – another well-known source of this pollution – the Commission needs to reject the lenient proposal that would give the cosmetics industry a free pass to continue business as usual until 2028, even where alternatives are available.”

Microplastic pollution is irreversible and causes considerable harm to the environment, with potential grave consequences for humans. EU scientific advisors have recognised that microplastics pose an unacceptable risk, which justifies a comprehensive ban.

The groups are urging the Commission to adopt a broad restriction that covers all microplastics in all sectors and uses.

The proposal is now in the hands of the Commission’s industry department, which has not always shown ambition on chemicals policy, the NGOs said. The Commission has until late May 2021 to draft the restriction text, which will then go to a vote of member state experts. The European Parliament and Council of Ministers then have three months to object, but rarely do.