Orlando, Fla. — Would a Tesla-type success story in chemical recycling bring in capital and help speed up that industry's development?
That was one of the questions put before the audience at a recent American Chemistry Council conference, where an industry crowd looked at what it will take for the nascent technology to become a regular part of the recycling landscape.
Some sympathetic investors on a panel argued that the advanced recycling sector, also called chemical recycling, would benefit if a Tesla or Airbnb-like success story emerged from its ranks.
It would help sway skeptical investors and policymakers with a tangible example of how the technology can work, proving the case that it should get more funding and support, they said.
"We've seen this in other industries, not to use the obvious examples, but [consider] Tesla and Airbnb," said Bridget Croke, managing director of green investment firm Closed Loop Partners. "If we can have one winner like this that becomes the dot, dot, dot of [advanced recycling], so everybody else can grow behind that, I think that would be a huge boon.
"I don't think we're at that point yet in the innovation curve where we understand how the whole system is going to work," she said. "Some of it won't unlock until we get a few successes. But I do think that we need to have a couple of big wins for all the rhetoric around the challenges [to change]. The challenges will still be there, [but] they just won't be the top of the conversation."
Similarly, an executive at the clean tech investment firm that owns part of chemical recycling firm Nexus Circular, said a major success would help change the narrative.
"[After] the first couple of big facilities that run for a year at massive commercial scale and have a good back story to tell, then you can go to all the ecosystem participants we've been talking about and say, 'Hey, I told you so. There is a big opportunity here,'" said Will Thorburn, assistant vice president of clean technology strategy and investments at Cox Enterprises. "Until we have that I think we're still going to be having some of the same kind of dialogue."
It would bring money that's currently sitting on the sidelines, said Ed Gillespie, CEO of Abundia Global Impact Group.
"The first one or two that really get it done will enable the ones that are in the background to start pushing through because money will fall to the alternatives," said Gillespie.
All three spoke at the ACC's inaugural Innovation and Circularity Summit: Advanced Recycling and the Future of Plastics, June 28-29 in Orlando.