Design work is now underway on what is being touted as the world's largest pyrolysis plant, a project that has the support of a major petroleum company that will use output to make food-grade polymers.
New Hope Energy, which already operates a small commercial-scale plant in Tyler, Texas, now says the company will build a new location along the Texas Gulf Coast designed to process hundreds of thousands of tons of used plastics each year.
"It's going to be huge, doing a thousand tons a day of feedstock, so 310,000 metric tons of production a year," said Tom Sheehy, director of sales, feedstock and marketing at New Hope. "It's going to be the largest pyrolysis plant in the world."
New Hope is moving forward with the chemical recycling project now that the company has signed TotalEnergies to an off-take agreement for oil that will be created from used plastics through pyrolysis.
Paris-based TotalEnergies is one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world and will purchase production from 100,000 tonnes of recycled plastics sent through the new facility each year. That oil will be converted "into virgin-quality polymers, which can be used for food-grade packaging," the companies said.
Discussion regarding the new facility between New Hope and TotalEnergies actually dates to before the beginning of COVID-19.
"It's a heavy investment, and it takes a lot of decision-makers and a lot of vetting. COVID slowed things down as well," Sheehy said. "It's going to make a difference in eliminating plastic waste in the world."
Pyrolysis is a process that transforms plastics — or other organic material — using heat and pressure in the absence of oxygen. One output is an oil that then can be used to make a variety of new products. Pyrolysis also creates a gas that can be recirculated to help fuel the process.
New Hope selected the Gulf Coast region because of the availability of used plastics as well as potential customers for pyrolysis oil, Sheehy explained. The exact location and cost were not revealed by the company, but Sheehy did indicate the project is expected to ultimately create 100-200 jobs. Production is expected to begin in 2025.
New Hope's location in Tyler has been operational for a couple of years and will inform the company as it expands to create the much larger location along the Gulf Coast, Sheehy said.
"It's really how we're going to be able to hit the ground running with the expanded facility," Sheehy said.
Sheehy described the Tyler location as operating on a "small commercial scale" and said the location "will be full commercial scale" by the end of the year.
New Hope said the company will target use of a variety of plastics that would otherwise be thrown away. Sheehy described them as "twos, fours, fives, sixes and some sevens" and include both rigids and films. "We sort them and grind them and mix them all up and make some fine-looking oil," he said.
New Hope is just one in a series of pyrolysis projects that have been announced or operating targeting waste plastics.
A primary aspect of Sheehy's job will be to secure enough used plastics to operate the large, new facility. He is often asked if there ultimately will be enough plastics to satisfy the input needs of all of these planned locations.
"It will take work. It will take partnerships that we are establishing already," he said. "These guys like partnering with us because these are hard-to-recycle plastics that we are accepting. If it doesn't go to us, it will go to a landfill most often. They love the fact that we are an option for them."
Sources for these plastics include the recycling divisions of solid waste management companies, manufacturers and retailers.
Valérie Goff, senior vice president of polymers for TotalEnergies, said in a statement New Hope Energy "offers a promising technology and the ability to scale. This new project is another concrete and significant step TotalEnergies is taking to address the challenge of plastic recycling and meet our goal of producing 30 percent circular polymers by 2030."