Plastics recycling in Europe should get a major shot in the arm soon with the imminent conclusion of a four-year feedstock-recovery research project in Scotland.
Technology developed in the $6.4 million project by the Plastics to Feedstock Recycling Consortium may be used in a full-scale commercial recycling plant operating by late 2000.
The consortium of European resin companies, which began with laboratory-scale trials, built a pilot plant with a daily capacity of about 2,200 pounds at BP Chemical Ltd.'s Grangemouth, Scotland, petrochemical complex. The plant uses a fluidized bed cracking system to reduce mixed plastic waste into a waxlike material.
The material, mixed with naphtha, can be used as a raw material for crackers or refineries to produce base chemicals, such as ethylene and propylene.
``We're now in the final stages of this project. This pilot plant will be taken as a model to design a full-sized plant for the next step,'' said Fred Mader, who is deputy director of the Association of Plastics Manufacturers in Europe, based in Brussels, Belgium.
The consortium backing the project includes APME members DSM NV of Sittard, the Netherlands; Elf Atochem SA of Paris; EniChem SpA of Milan, Italy; and BP Chemicals of London.
Consortium Chairman Christian Troussier said the pilot plant technology is being fine-tuned now.
He said this stage of the project is likely to be concluded by September.
At that point, the technology will be available to APME member firms that could develop a scaled-up commercial plant with a capacity of at least 55 million pounds per year, said Troussier, environment and commercial affairs manager at BP Chemicals in Paris.
``I would be surprised if a group of interested companies does not form quite soon,'' he said.
But he added that it could take as long as a year for interested plastics producers to form a partnership and arrange adequate funding, and another 21/2 years to build the plant.
One unresolved question remains: where in Europe such a plant could be located to best effect.
No German company was involved in the research and a plant is unlikely to go to Germany, since the country already has several feedstock recycling projects.
The chief incentive for such a large-scale feedstock recycling facility is the need to meet stringent targets for plastics waste recovery set by European Union legislation.
Member nations are required to recycle at least 15 percent of their plastic packaging waste by 2001.
In the United Kingdom and France, according to Troussier, the current level of recovery, mainly through mechanical recycling, is around 7 percent. Feedstock recycling could be used to beef up those local rates and meet the 15 percent goal.
Troussier said trying to achieve the targets via traditional mechanical recycling would be ``extremely challenging'' and very expensive.
``Feedstock recycling is extremely simple technology. You do not need to sort the mixed waste by polymer type or product, creating very high savings,'' he said.