By Karen McKee, President of ExxonMobil Chemical Company.
To help reduce the impact of plastic waste on the environment, society will need to recycle a greater share of the products that it uses instead of permanently discarding them. ExxonMobil is pursuing three new advanced recycling initiatives in the U.S. and Europe that set in motion opportunities to capture value from plastic waste at scale.
Advanced recycling, also called chemical recycling, refers to technologies and processes that can enable companies like ExxonMobil to molecularly convert difficult-to-recycle plastics into virgin-quality raw material used to make a wide range of valuable new products – and potentially repeat that process over and over again.
Imagine your discarded yogurt containers being transformed into medical equipment for your next doctor’s appointment, and then into the dashboard of your next fuel-efficient car. That’s a simplistic way to describe a more “circular economy”, but it helps illustrate what ExxonMobil is working on.
In Baytown, Texas, ExxonMobil completed the initial phase of a trial for converting plastic waste into raw materials to make high-value polymers. Pending successful completion of the trial’s next phase, we plan to market commercial volumes of “certified circular” polymers later this year. We also intend to use the trial results to scale-up advanced recycling capabilities at other ExxonMobil chemical facilities around the world, which are integrated with our broader downstream operations and therefore offer important economies of scale that help to keep costs down.
In France, ExxonMobil is collaborating with Plastic Energy – a leader in advanced recycling – on a project that will convert post-consumer plastic waste into raw materials for the manufacturing of virgin-quality certified circular polymers. The facility will have an initial capacity of 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste per year, with plans to scale up to 33,000 tonnes in the near future. Based on current plans it is expected to be one of the largest advanced recycling projects for plastic waste in Europe. Start-up is expected in early 2023.
ExxonMobil became a founding member of Cyclyx International, a joint venture with Agilyx, which is developing systems to aggregate and pre-process plastic waste to meet the growing needs of the advanced recycling industry. Cyclyx aims to fill what is currently a “missing link” between waste companies and recyclers, thus enabling efforts to achieve advanced recycling at scale. ExxonMobil holds a 25 percent equity interest in Cyclyx.
These initiatives and others are helping us to assess and further develop opportunities for advanced recycling across our sites at scale.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that plastics made from petrochemicals are the building blocks of modern life, used in everything from protective medical equipment to food preservation wrap to kitchen appliances to car parts. (Did you know that today’s cars are about 50 percent plastic by volume, which makes them lighter and helps contribute to improved fuel efficiency and extended EV range?).
Advanced recycling could enable society to increase the circularity of a broader range of products versus traditional mechanical plastic recycling, which involves grinding discarded plastic and blending it together with new plastic. Advanced recycling can transform more types and qualities of plastics into a broader range of valuable products. And unlike mechanical recycling – where each round of recycling degrades the plastic – there are no evident technical limitations regarding how many times a plastic product can be put through advanced recycling processes.
ExxonMobil is leveraging its expertise in research and development and molecule management to create options for advanced recycling solutions at our global integrated petrochemical facilities.
We are also working with others to help find solutions, because with a global challenge like plastic waste, collaboration is crucial. In 2019, ExxonMobil became a founding member of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, the world’s most significant organization of business and nonprofit partners to help address plastic waste globally. Membership has since grown to nearly 50 organizations that have collectively committed to invest more than $1 billion to develop safe, scalable and economically viable solutions.
These efforts are part of a broader commitment by ExxonMobil to meet the world’s need for energy and materials while reducing environmental impacts, and helping our customers reduce theirs.
Plastic is too valuable and too versatile to waste. ExxonMobil will continue to work collaboratively with industry, governments, nongovernmental organizations and consumers to encourage appropriate handling of plastic waste. And we will continue to expand our efforts in new technologies and advanced recycling to help tackle this important issue.
For more information, I encourage you to read ExxonMobil’s Sustainability Report or visit www.endplasticwaste.org