Some 14 years in, Agilyx Corp. is persistent.
The Tigard, Ore.-based plastics recycling company is expanding its capabilities to include feedstock for ethylene crackers.
Agilyx has a long history of trying to commercialize pyrolysis using recycled plastics. The company spent years developing a system to handle mixed plastics to produce synthetic crude oil. But when oil prices fell in recent years, that project was no longer economically viable.
The company then pivoted to only handling recycled polystyrene, both rigid and expanded, to create a styrene monomer that's marketed to virgin PS producers.
Now the company is signaling plans to return to mixed plastics.
But the fundamentals of how the company does business has completely changed, CEO Joe Vaillancourt said.
Agilyx, for years, tried to create a product first — fuel — and then try to find markets. That approach ultimately did not succeed.
Now the company looks for applications and partners first before beginning production. That's how it's working with the company's PS recycling efforts, which produces styrene monomer, and that's how it will work with the new venture, which will make ethylene and propylene monomers, Vaillancourt explained.
"We have learned over time that it would be very difficult, from what our experience tells us, to create a commodity-based product that is fungible in the market," he said.
"What we do now is we work directly with our off-take partners and we work together with them," he said.
In the styrene business, Agilyx has agreements with both Americas Styrenics LLC and Ineos Styrolution to styrene monomer produced through the company's pyrolysis plant in Tigard. Pyrolysis uses heat in the absence of oxygen to create chemical changes in the treated materials, in this case plastics.
Pyrolysis is different from conventional recycling because it takes the waste all the way back to the monomer, which can then be repolymerized into virgin-grade resins. The company touts its new capabilities for being able to close the loop, making new plastics from plastic waste.
Working out business deals before creating recycled products makes more sense because Agilyx can create end products designed specifically for its customers.
"Now that we're working directly with these partners, they are giving us specific specs," Vaillancourt said.
While styrene monomer production is currently taking place in Tigard, he sees future projects aimed at the polyethylene and polypropylene markets to be located at or near its future partners.
"We are developing projects directly with our off-take partners. In some cases, they will fund the entire project," he said. In other cases, they will provide underwriting to allow Agilyx to find outside funding.
"We're more in the business of customizing feedstocks for off-take partners more so than trying to create an Agilyx branded set of commodities," Vaillancourt said.