Akron, Ohio — Advanced recycling firm Alterra Energy LLC has increased production and is looking to license its technology to resin makers.
Alterra's plant in Akron can now process about 45 million pounds of mixed waste plastic per year. It then heats that material in a thermochemical liquefaction process and converts it into around 100,000 barrels of synthetic crude oil.
Alterra's technology is different than some competitors in that it's a continuous process, instead of batch or semi-batch.
Synthetic crude oil made by Alterra is then sold to petrochemical firms to be used as feedstock for new plastic resins. From Akron, the synthetic crude is transported by truck to petrochemical plants on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
"Our technology was plastic-to-fuels, but now it's really evolved into plastic-to-plastic," President Jeremy DeBenedictis said in a Nov. 17 interview in Akron.
Alterra sources mixed plastics — excluding PET and PVC — from materials recovery facilities in the region.
Materials firm Ravago Group, which became a minority investor in Alterra last year, supplies the firm with about 80 percent of its feedstock, which is shredded and densified before reaching the Akron plant.
"We pay for hard-to-recycle plastics, which keeps those materials out of a landfill," DeBenedictis said. "At the end of the day, plastics aren't the problem; it's what we do with them."
"Our unique value is in turning plastics back to the chemicals they came from," said Kevin Dressler, licensing director. "We're at scale now, taking material in and getting material out."
In the last two years, Alterra has increased its staff from nine employees to 32. The firm expects to employ 50 by the end of 2023.
Longer term, DeBenedictis said Alterra is looking to license its proprietary technology to petrochemical firms that then would build recycling units at their facilities, many of which are on the Gulf Coast. With this goal in mind, Alterra plans to open an office in Houston next year.
"I think we can eventually have multiple projects on the Gulf Coast," DeBenedictis said.
In October, Ravago and renewable energy firm Neste — another Alterra minority investor — announced plans to build a recycling plant using Alterra's technology in Vlissingen, Netherlands. The plant will have annual processing capacity of about 120 million pounds of mixed plastic waste, which officials said is equal to the plastic packaging waste generated by 1.7 million people per year.
In 2019, Ravago and Neste set a joint target of processing more than 450 million pounds of mixed waste plastic per year by 2030. Since then, the firms have evaluated technologies and the raw material market and built joint business cases to develop chemical recycling. Neste owns the European rights to Alterra's technology.
Abundia Global Impact Group licensed Alterra's technology in late 2021. Abundia, a technology company focused on sustainability, plans to build a plant in the United Kingdom that would be able to process almost 90 million pounds of mixed plastic waste per year.