Austin, Texas — Eric Hartz did not quite say it's time for the chemical recycling sector to put up or shut up. Not those words, exactly.
But the president of Nexus Circular LLC told the crowd at the Resource Recycling Conference in Austin that the sector needs to deliver on promises.
"We, the industry of advanced recycling and specifically pyrolysis, we just have to deliver. We have to perform," he said during an Aug. 16 conference session exploring chemical recycling.
"The burden is on us to build plants at scale that work. And that's really what has to happen. I do think, unfortunately there's a lot of news that floats around this space. There's a lot of promises made," he said.
And promises unfulfilled.
"I don't think there's ill will. I don't think it's malicious. I just think they are hopeful. And we need to break that pattern," he said.
That pattern has been long on promises and short on solutions over the years as those who venture into the space discover the difficulties of actually turning a profit.
Pyrolysis uses heat and pressure in the absence of oxygen to convert used plastics into constituent molecules that can be reconstituted again into plastics. Pyrolysis, and not just for plastics, has been around for decades.
Many companies have poured millions of dollars into trying to make the process practical and profitable.
Nexus, Hartz said, has cracked the code with its approach, keeping costs down to the point that he believes his company will succeed even when the chemical recycling output grows to such a scale that commodity pricing takes hold.
"The bottom line is there is a price premium today. Why? Supply is minuscule. Demand is enormous," Hartz told the crowd. "We are not in a commodity market right now. We are in a specialty market. So prices reflect that. But the other thing is there is very little volume right now. So that disparity can go away."
Nexus has designed its approach "to make the highest-quality product to extract the highest price. But we need to be low-cost, long term. Because if everyone succeeds at this in a commodity world, the low-cost player is who wins," he said.
"Today there is a price difference but it's all in the supply and demand. We predict that for quite some time there will probably be this price disparity," Hartz said.
The company already makes what Hartz has called commercial qualities of pyrolysis oil at a plant in Atlanta that is then sold to other companies that drop it into their processes to make new plastics. Nexus also recently unveiled separate plans with Braskem and Dow to site other pyrolysis locations in the Chicago area and Dallas.