Decentralised plants and blockchain-based certification turn plastic waste into a valuable opportunity
An advanced recycling startup is building a network of small and efficient modular reactors supported by a digital platform that verifies the provenance of post-consumer waste
Spotted: As organisations and governments around the world look to deliver circularity and reduce material footprint, ‘advanced recycling’ is emerging as an important technology. The term is a catch-all for a suite of chemical processes that can be used to convert discarded plastic into ready-to-use materials.
The nascent advanced recycling industry faces two key challenges. First, there is the practical challenge of finding the most efficient technologies and processes. But, beyond this, there is a high risk of fraud as the end-product of advanced recycling is so similar to virgin plastic. Solutions that track the provenance of materials are therefore extremely important.
Startup Greenback aims to tackle both problems through a decentralised network of chemical recycling reactors connected to a digital verification platform based on blockchain technology.
The company thinks of the challenge of advanced recycling in terms of an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ loop. The outer loop refers to the physical flow of materials – how waste is collected, transported, treated, and returned to manufacturers for future re-use. Greenback uses both technology and financial incentives to encourage the collection of ‘hard to recycle’ flexible packaging feedstock. This feedstock is then fed into chemical recycling plants that are located close to local waste streams – such as landfills.
These reactors use microwaves to quickly heat up the plastic, converting it into into pyrolysis oil, which is chemically the same as fossil oil used to make plastic. This specific technology, developed by UK company Enval, allows the reactors to be much smaller than those using other processes – while also being quicker and more reliable.
The main end-product of the process is an oil that can be sold on to petrochemical companies for conversion into new plastic packaging. Because the oil is much easier to transport than the plastic it is made from, producing it close to the source of waste makes the transportation of materials in the outer loop far more efficient.
The ‘inner loop’ is the outer loop’s ‘digital twin’. It refers to the verification and certification processes that must accompany advanced recycling to ensure transparency and accountability. Greenback’s Circularity Platform uses a combination of artificial intelligence, blockchain, and internet of things (IoT) technology to show the provenance of recycled materials. Evidence is collected through IoT devices linked to the platform at the point where waste is collected. Blockchain technology then makes the whole system secure.
Springwise has previously covered advanced recycling at the INEOS Grangemouth facility in Scotland. Greenback takes a more de-centralised approach, while also focusing on transparency and the provenance of materials.
Written By: Matthew Hempstead
1st March 2022