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Neste Cuts Deal with Lotte Chemical to Supply Renewable Feedstock

It’s the latest development in the chemical recycling space, but doubts persist about the technology’s return on investment.

Norbert Sparrow

April 8, 2024

3 Min Read
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Petmal/iStock via Getty Images

While the debate over the viability of chemical recycling continues unabated, collaborative ventures banking on its capability to help meet demand for alternatives to fossil fuel–based virgin plastics keep popping up. The latest partnership involves Finland-based Neste providing its renewable Neste RE to Lotte Chemical, which will use the materials as feedstock in the production of chemicals and plastics at its plant in South Korea.

Neste RE consists of bio-based carbon made from waste plastics and residue such as used cooking oil through its “next generation biomass to liquid” (NEXTBL) process. The technology purifies the raw materials in a pretreatment step, removes oxygen via hydro-treatment, and applies isomerization for controlled branching, the company explains on its website. Neste claims that use of its renewable resources reduces greenhouse-gas emissions by more than 85% compared with fossil-based feedstock and results in plastic products that are identical in quality.

Suitable for multiple applications

The plastics and chemicals produced by Lotte using Neste RE are suitable for multiple applications and in supply chains for products ranging from packaging and construction to textiles and electronics, the companies said in a press release. They did not disclose the amount of feedstock that will be supplied.

This announcement follows news last month that Eastman is building a second recycling facility in the United States that will apply its version of chemical recycling, which it calls molecular recycling. One goal of the Longview, TX, plant is to produce recycled PET with greater than 70% reduced carbon emissions compared with fossil-based virgin production. The project is partially funded by the US Department of Energy.

Feasibility in question

Despite all of the dealmaking, many observers continue to cast doubt on the economic viability of the technology. An article published today by the Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) newsroom reported that the closing of the Regenyx plant in Oregon at the end of this month “has raised a new round of questions about the efficacy and feasibility of the process.”

The senior vice president of Agilyx, which operates the plant in partnership with Americas Styrenics, said that the facility built to convert polystyrene waste into feedstock was a demonstration project that successfully met its objectives. It proved the viability of the technology, said Mark Barranco in a statement cited by EHS, but it would be cost-prohibitive to maintain and upgrade the plant’s dated equipment, he added.

Other observers contacted by EHS were skeptical, calling the explanation pure spin. The chemical recycling industry is “more speculative than it is real,” Jenny Glitz of activist group Beyond Plastics told EHS.

PlasticsToday columnist John Spevacek, who is no anti-plastics crusader, also harbors doubts about the technology, noting in particular that the idea of breaking down waste plastic and using its components to make new plastic products is problematic from an energy perspective.

So, chemical recycling: Good, bad, or just a tool among many to dig ourselves out of the plastic waste mess?

One thing is certain — we’re not done talking about it.

About the Author(s)

Norbert Sparrow

Editor in chief of PlasticsToday since 2015, Norbert Sparrow has more than 30 years of editorial experience in business-to-business media. He studied journalism at the Centre Universitaire d'Etudes du Journalisme in Strasbourg, France, where he earned a master's degree.


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