Commodity chemical multinational Dow (NYSE:DOW) has made a strategic investment in Mura Technology to expand its advanced plastics recycling technology.
- Mura’s HydroPRS system offers a scalable and cost-effective way to recycle a wide scope of plastics that cannot be recycled by conventional processes.
- Plastic production and post-use disposal contribute to severe environmental and social problems.
- Advanced recycling technologies could play a crucial role in the transition to a circular economy, but multiple stakeholders must collaborate to ensure they are adopted at scale.
Dow and Mura will collaborate to develop advanced recycling facilities across Europe and the US, with the aim of adding 600,000 metric tons of aggregate recycling capacity by 2030. This would be a substantial increase from the 23,000 metric tons Dow collected, reused or recycled in 2021.
The investment builds on a previous announcement of plans to construct an initial facility at Dow’s Böhlen site in Germany, and will see Dow joining companies including KBR (NYSE:KBR) and LG Chem (KSE:051910) as equity investors and commercial partners of Mura Technology.
Mura’s chief executive Steve Mahon said, “We are excited to move forward with the creation of a series of financeable HydroPRS plants in Europe and the U.S. that will accelerate a circular plastics economy.”
Diego Donoso, president of Dow’s Packaging and Specialty Plastics divisionsaid: “The collaboration not only accelerates the strategic transformation of our feedstock slate and enables us to secure circular feedstocks; it also helps us meet strong and growing customer demand for circular polymers.”
The agreement is interesting as it highlights Dow’s interest in scaling such technologies globally. Donoso said that Dow’s long-term strategy is to decrease use of virgin fossil-based feedstocks.”
Mura Technology’s Hydro Plastic Recycling Solution (HydroPRS)
UK-based Mura Technology’s HydroPRS system uses supercritical steam, generated when water reaches 373°C and 220 bars of pressure. Plastic feedstocks are shredded, decontaminated, melted and pressurised, at which point the steam is added to break the plastics down into liquid hydrocarbons and gas.
Energy is recovered throughout the process to power future cycles and the resulting products, which include naptha, distillate gas oil, heavy gas oil and wax residue, can be used to make new plastics and other valuable commodities such as additives for making roads.
The company says its technology saves 1.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions per tonne of plastic processed, when compared to incineration, and can be used on a range of plastics that cannot be recycled by conventional methods.
Dow is committed to a circular economy
Dow’s latest sustainability targets establish the elimination of plastic waste as one of its core priorities. It aims to enable the collection, reuse or recycling of 1 million metric tons of plastic by 2030 and to ensure that 100% of its products sold into packaging applications are reusable or recyclable by 2035.
Since 2019, the company says it has invested $50 million into impact funds, recycling infrastructure and key technologies to transform waste into solutions that support a circular economy.
Further efforts include a number of partnership projects and working alongside its customers to design and promote reusable or recyclable packaging solutions.
Plastic free vs. plastic neutral
While some companies aim to become plastic free by ensuring their products contain no petroleum-based plastic whatsoever, Dow has chosen to seek plastic neutrality, meaning it will recover and recycle the same amount of plastic as it uses.
Notably, Dow has focused its strategy on eliminating plastic waste, rather than plastic itself. Dow’s position is built on the understanding that plastic’s today are a necessity in many industries, but also recognises it has a negative impact on the environment.
It is widely accepted that many plastics serves a necessary purpose. Plastic packaging can help to reduce food waste by keeping it fresher for longer, while plastic insulation, sealants and other construction materials can help make buildings more energy efficient and durable.
The pharmaceuticals industry relies on plastics for hypoallergenic medical materials, sterile packaging systems and the delivery of specific does in the form of tablets and capsules. Plastics can also be used to lighten the weight of vehicles and machinery, thereby reducing their fuel consumption.
On the other hand, systemic failures in society’s approach to the plastics crisis have allowed its environmental impact to spiral out of control. Global plastics production, which accounts for 4% of total oil and has each year, had reached 460 million tonnes by 2019 and is expected to rise to a cumulative 1.2 billion tonnes by 2060.
This excessive and carbon intensive production generated around 353 million tonnes of plastic waste from 2000-2019, with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimating that just 9% is recycled.
The remaining 91% is mismanaged, landfilled or incinerated, contributing to the destruction of natural ecosystems while also endangering wildlife and human health.
Plastics concern is driving focus on reporting and regulation
Businesses are facing increasing pressure to address their plastic footprint, with 175 countries having endorsed a global treaty that will see the development of strengthened policy measures against plastic waste.
The EU Commission, to give one example, has already introduced its Single-Use Plastics Directive and has threatened legal action against Member States who do not transpose it into law.
CDP, meanwhile, has recently announced its plan to develop a plastics disclosure reporting framework that will serve as a further incentive for businesses to change their ways.
Alternative approaches to plastics are increasing
Although the firm is exploring some plastic-free solutions such as bio-based feedstocks, it has said that such solutions risk competing against the use of carbohydrate-rich plants that could otherwise be used as food, energy or to decarbonise other industries.
Furthermore, bio-based plastics are only beneficial if disposed of correctly. When mixed with recyclable plastics, they contaminate entire collections which then end up in landfill. If mixed with landfill waste, they reduce greenhouse gases upon decomposition.
The introduction of better waste management practices, on the other hand, could reduce waste sector emissions by around 84%. When coupled with measures to reduce plastic production at its source, the plastic problem could be significantly reduced.
Dow’s plastic neutral strategy reflects the efforts of the Plastic Collective and rePurpose Global to offset plastic’s impact by financing the development of recovery and recycling infrastructure, as well as the Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ recommendations on how policies should be developed to reframe waste as a positive economic opportunity.
Multiple stakeholders must be engaged in solving the plastics crisis
Although the adoption of advanced recycling technologies could support the transition to a circular economy by minimising virgin plastic production and preventing its eventual waste, it remains to be seen whether such solutions can scalably produce materials of the same quality and value as those derived from fossil fuels.
Ultimately, the solution to the plastic crisis will require the engagement of multiple stakeholders who can collectively prioritise the development and funding of new technological infrastructure and introduce the policy incentives to make them a reality.