Eastman Chemical Co. is actively "exploring several options" for construction of yet another chemical recycling plant for PET in the United States with a price tag approaching $1 billion.
News of the possibility comes as work continues on the company's methanolysis plant in Kingsport, Tenn., and just a few months after plans for another such site in France were announced.
Eastman is exploring options for a third facility and has applied for financial incentives from local authorities at two locations where the company already has operations: Texas City and Longview, Texas. The company indicated it "will be working on others in the coming weeks and months as we explore our options."
Paperwork filed with the Texas City Independent School District draws the curtain back on the company's potential plans. Even for a company the size of Eastman, which had sales of $10.5 billion last year, construction of these recycling plants is a big swing.
In a statement provided to Plastics News, Eastman confirmed the company is considering construction of a third facility in addition to Kingsport and France.
"Eastman is evaluating future growth options for its production of polymers and intermediates from recycled plastic waste worldwide, which may include an investment at one of its global manufacturing locations," the statement reads.
"We are in the process of exploring several options for this potential project and working through due diligence to gain the most attractive incentives for a large capital investment," the company said.
"This filing does not commit us to the Texas City site. The team is still going through a robust site selection process and there could be multiple filings of this type in several states as we look for the most attractive locations for this investment."
Paperwork filed with Texas City schools seeking tax breaks provides more context for the potential project.
The $850 million facility would have the capacity to handle more than 150,000 metric tons, or 330 million pounds, of recycled plastics each year using a process called methanolysis. If the project moves forward, production would begin before the end of 2026 and the facility would employ 25.
A letter to the Texas City school district indicates "an ultimate decision by Eastman Chemical Co. will be heavily influenced by the property tax benefits" achieved through an agreement with the district.
"Eastman currently employs over 120 skilled workers in our Texas City facility. Located on the Galveston Bay in one of the largest petrochemical complexes on the Gulf Coast, the site was purchased by Eastman in 2011 from Sterling Chemicals to produce Eastman 168 nonphthalate plasticizers," the company said in the application.
Chemical recycling is sometimes called molecular recycling, because the process returns plastics to their molecular level. The process also is called advanced recycling.
"The molecular recycling facility Eastman is looking to build is inclusive of mixed plastics processing, methanolysis, polymerization and includes capacity to produce intermediates. Eastman's proven technology delivers true circularity to plastic waste that is difficult to recycle and ends up being landfilled or incinerated because it cannot be mechanically recycled, or the performance degrades after being processed multiple times," the company explained in the application.
"The Eastman technology breaks this waste down to the molecular building blocks and then reassembles it into virgin quality materials, without compromising performance, thus extending the lifespan, and even enabling upcycling," Eastman wrote.
Methanolysis, not surprisingly, uses methanol in a process to transform recovered PET into molecular building blocks. Using high pressure and high temperatures, the approach yields both dimethyl terephthalate and ethylene glycol that can then be used to create virgin-like recycled PET.
Eastman, in its application to Texas City schools, indicated the proposed facility would have three main units: a mixed plastic waste processing unit that would sort plastic waste to isolate polyesters from other plastics; a methanolysis unit to transform polymers into monomers; and a polymerization unit to "repolymerize into marketable resins."
"The new facility will be technologically like the plant under construction in Tennessee — with expected mechanical completion in early 2023 — and a second facility recently announced in France. Each of these build upon the facility Eastman operated for more than 30 years in Rochester, N.Y., as part of Eastman Kodak," the company said.
"The purpose of the plant is to treat hard-to-recycle polyester waste [mainly household] from municipalities, as well as other polyester-rich packaging, post-consumer, post-industrial and textile waste. This is waste that mechanical recyclers cannot transform into products of equivalent value or are by-products of mechanical recycling. This plant will be completely complementary to the mechanical recycling industry and will increase the amount of waste that can be treated in the U.S.," the application states.
While the project would create just 25 new permanent jobs at Eastman, creation of the facility would be a major boost for the construction industry. The company estimates the need for 375 construction workers during the 2025-2026 school year with an average salary of $72,800. The jobs number jumps to 500 for the 2026-2027 school year. Full-time workers at the facility, once the site is operational, would earn an average of $68,250 per year.