"There is no question there are things we'll do differently for Augusta and Europe and [South Korea]. Now that we can walk around and see the facility, we're going to make improvements. There's no question we'll be able take components of this operation out and replace it with something easier. And that's going to help our [capital expenditure] per pound a lot," Olson said.
"There's no doubt and I think it makes sense that this will be the most expensive plant we ever built," he said. "But going forward, we're going to have the capability to really bring that cost down because of learnings from this facility.
"We believe that when we begin making pellets we'll eliminate the perceived tech risk and then it will come down to a just pure financial discussion about the project validity," Olson said. Production in Ironton also will provide the company with the ability to raise additional money to fund future sites, the CEO said.
Olson describes the PureCycle construction model as a "copy-paste" approach where future facilities will largely replicate what's been built in Ironton. PureCycle uses modular construction where portions of the Ironton plant were built in Beaumont, Texas, before they were shipped and assembled in Ohio.
Continuing to use this modular approach will allow PureCycle to construct portions of the upcoming plants simultaneously in a controlled environment, a move that cuts costs compared with on-site work. "Doing it at one site creates synergy," Olson said.
"We are becoming experts in the solvent-based purification of plastics. We believe there's a really nice place in the long-term market for that because it's low cost, it's high yield and a very good carbon footprint and high quality. All of those things, in one form or another, beat the competition, so it puts us in the right spot," Olson said.
The company uses an alkane solvent to clean the PP, which is in liquid form and under pressure during the process. Olson declined to say exactly which solvent the company uses, but it has been widely reported to be butane. Solvent is being loaded into the system, PureCycle said May 30, one of the last steps before production can begin.
The Ironton site, on a portion of a former Dow Inc. plant, is now fully staffed with some 75 workers. On a recent sunny day, the employees were attending to last-minute details as the plant prepared for production.
Adjacent to the PureCycle plant is a separate Americas Styrenics LLC polystyrene plant that also is on former Dow grounds. PureCycle built the commercial-scale PP recycling facility from scratch as well as an enclosed pilot plant that served to prove the P&G concept. The company was able to utilize some former Dow buildings on-site, saving some money along the way.
The Ironton site includes space to store incoming used PP as well as a separate prep facility that features both a dry and wet processing. Rigids are typically sent through wet processing and flexibles are densified and prepared on the dry side.
PureCycle has been storing used PP on-site in both silos and in super sacks on the ground in preparation for production. The CEO estimated, in the recent interview, there was about 3.5 million pounds of used PP awaiting a new life. With an expected annual capacity of about 107 million pounds, that's about two or three weeks of feedstock once the facility is running around the clock.
PureCycle picked the Ironton location due to its proximity to the nearby Ohio River, which leads to the Mississippi and the rest of the world, Olson explained. And despite missing earlier projected start dates, the CEO maintained PureCycle's construction project still is faring better than other COVID-19-era projects that have been delayed much longer. The company, when first announced in 2017 by former CEO Mike Otworth, had hoped to be operational by 2020.
"We've got a feedstock story that's really good, a landfill and incineration diversion story that is really good," Olson said. "Not only is PureCycle something that the recycling community can get behind, I think that this is such a positive good news story that the country can get behind it. There's enough hard out there, enough hate out there, enough noise out there that it's good to get behind something that feels good. And I think that PureCycle is that story."