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Oregon plant that converts waste plastic to oil shuts down

By: Jim Johnson

August 6, 2014

A waste plastic-to-oil plant in Oregon is shutting down as the owner “learned what we needed to learn” and the developer looks toward a new generation of equipment to improve operations at the same location.

Agilyx Corp. created the technology that operated in Portland, but Waste Management Inc. actually owns the operation.

It was during recent downtime at the plant that Waste Management decided to idle the facility, indicating the company has learned all it could from the site’s intermittent operations during the last 16 months.

Agilyx, for its part, is out with a statement saying it’s moving forward with the sixth and next generation of its plastics-to-oil technology and plans to own and operate the new operation in Portland.

“We will continue to innovate and improve our technology and view transitions such as this as a natural progression in our efforts to find better solutions for waste plastics,” said John Angin, vice president of business development for Agilyx, in an email.

Waste Management, for its part, said its remains an investor in Agilyx and is evaluating whether it wants to retrofit the shuttered site with the new generation of technology.

The move impacted 22 people Waste Management said, but Agilyx indicated it was able to reassign some workers within its organization for a net job loss of about 12 full-time workers.

Waste Management spokeswoman Jackie Lang provided details from her company’s perspective.

“I think it’s important to know that we achieved some important successes over the last 16 months. And these learnings have put us in a position to look ahead and determine the best course is now to discontinue operations while Agilyx advances the next generation of the process. So that’s what we’re doing,” Lang said. “We know the technology works.”

“We learned what we needed to learn from this version of the technology and we determined that the time is right to be looking forward at the next generation of the technology,” she said.

While the current operation relies on a batch approach to processing recycled plastics, the new one will use a continuous feed approach.

Agilyx is “nearing completion” of this new approach at its research and development center in Tigard, Ore., the company said.

“Our new technology offers greater operational and energy efficiency and fits on a substantially smaller footprint — features that we believe are significant breakthroughs. There are certain features of the Generation 5 system that we have carried over to Generation 6, but overall, we view it as conceptually new technology,” Angin said in the email.

Agilyx characterized the change at the facility as a transition and said it will be completed by the fourth quarter of next year.

 “In addition, this will also mark the first Agilyx owned and operated facility, which will be open to commercial plastic generators and aggregators,” the company said in a statement.

“We are working with Agilyx at this time to evaluate the option of retrofitting this facility to the Generation 6 technology. We believe the new version of the technology could offer a greater opportunity for success because it is a continuous system verses a batch approach,” Lang said.

Using a continuous approach is expected to save on labor and energy costs.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to launch our new technology in Portland and look forward to continued cooperation with Waste Management, who has been a supportive partner during our development stage,” said Agilyx CEO Ross Patten said in a statement.

The decision to idle the North Portland site was unrelated to another recent move by Waste Management to sell its traditional waste-to-energy business — Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. — for $1.94 billion to Energy Capital Partners, Lang said. Wheelabrator operates 17 incinerators.

“Waste Management is engaged in a variety of projects aimed at extracting value from the material that we manage. Waste Management is still very much committed to creating more value from the waste that we manage. We are also committed to being thoughtful and diligent in our investments,” Lang said.

“We’ve learned that new technologies evolve iteratively over time and Agilyx is no exception,” she said.