When ExxonMobil Corp. first revealed plans for a large plastics recycling facility last year, the company planned for operations to begin by the end of 2022.
The Irving, Texas-based energy company has made good on that timetable with news that operations at one of the largest chemical recycling facilities in North America have begun at the company's Baytown, Texas, manufacturing complex.
And the facility has more capacity than previously announced.
Using chemical recycling, which the company calls advanced recycling, the new facility has a capacity to handle more than 80 million pounds of used plastics each year. That's up from 66 million pounds when the site was first revealed.
The new Baytown facility is part of a larger push by ExxonMobil to recycle 1 billion pounds of plastics annually by the end of 2026.
ExxonMobil's new facility is part of a trend where larger energy, resin and chemical companies are moving into chemical recycling projects for plastics. Plans for many projects have been announced during the past few years and now some of those facilities are starting to come online or nearing completion.
Chemical recycling is a catch-all term for a variety of processes aiming to break down used plastics into monomers, which can then be used to make feedstock for new plastics or fuel.
"There is substantial demand for recycled plastics, and advanced recycling can play an important role by breaking down plastics that could not be recycled in traditional, mechanical methods," said Karen McKee, president of ExxonMobil Product Solutions Co., in a statement. "We've proven our proprietary advanced recycling technology at Baytown, and now we're leveraging our scale and integration to increase production."
ExxonMobil already has processed nearly 15 million pounds of plastics at the facility since the beginning of pilot operations last year, the company said. The firm has branded its approach to chemical recycling as Exxtend technology.
Pyrolysis is one type of chemical recycling that superheats material under pressure in the absence of oxygen to create transformation.
Exxtend is a form of pyrolysis, but more than just that, a company spokeswoman explained Dec. 15.
"While our technology works by pyrolysis (heating the plastic to break it down into monomers), our process is different from the stand-alone pyrolysis units being developed by other companies," Julie King said in an email. "Our technology co-processes the shredded plastic waste directly in our facilities with other hydrocarbon streams, allowing us to recover more of the molecules produced during the process than a typical stand-alone pyrolysis unit."
The company wants to build additional, similar recycling facilities around the world and is assessing locations in Baton Rouge, La.; Beaumont, Texas; and Joliet, Ill., in the United States right now. Internationally, ExxonMobil is looking at sites in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore. Talks also are underway with third parties to explore the potential to place facilities in Malaysia and Indonesia.
ExxonMobil is pushing ahead with chemical recycling as the company already has contracts to sell what it calls "certified circular plastics" to worldwide customers for food-grade packaging. This includes deals with plastic processors Berry Global Group Inc., Amcor plc and Sealed Air Corp. as well as food retailer Ahold Delhaize USA.