Nova Chemicals building

Nova Chemicals and Enerkem Collaborate to Close Loop on Plastics Recycling

The companies have entered into a joint development agreement to explore turning non-recyclable and non-compostable municipal waste into ethylene, a basic building block of plastics.

Two Canadian companies are collaborating to close the loop on recycling and further a circular plastics economy. Nova Chemicals Corp., a producer of chemicals and plastic resins based in Calgary, and Enerkem Inc., a global waste-to-renewable fuels and chemicals producer with headquarters in Montréal, have entered into a joint development agreement to explore turning non-recyclable and non-compostable municipal waste into ethylene, a basic building block of plastics.

“This joint development agreement aims to address one of the primary gaps of the circular economy and efficiently produce ethylene from recycled plastic content,” said Sarah Marshall, Director of Sustainability, Nova Chemicals, in response to questions from PlasticsToday.

Nova Chemicals will pursue research into converting hard-to-recycle municipal waste into ethyelene at commercial scale at its Center for Applied Research in Calgary. Image courtesy Nova Chemicals Corp.

Working together, the companies will research advanced recycling technology to transform hard-to-recycle municipal waste, including items such as plastics, household waste, and construction materials, into ethylene at full commercial scale, said the companies’ information. Ethylene produced from waste would advance a plastics circular economy and help meet consumer brand goals for recycled content in packaging. “The project aims to address the key technical challenges in the next two years,” Marshall added.

Advanced recycling technologies are a necessary component of moving to zero plastic waste by creating valuable new feedstocks from post-use plastics that cannot be easily mechanically recycled. The quality of polymers produced with advanced recycling products is indistinguishable from those made from 100% virgin, fossil-based feedstocks.

Enerkem reportedly is the first company in the world to produce renewable methanol and ethanol from non-recyclable, non-compostable municipal solid waste at full commercial scale. Its current technologies replace the use of fossil sources like petroleum and natural gas to produce sustainable transportation fuels and chemicals that are used in a broad range of everyday products, said the announcement.

“Nova Chemicals and Enerkem both bring strong research expertise and complementary research capabilities to this joint development,” Marshall commented further. “Enerkem is a leader in converting municipal solid waste to syngas via its gasification technology, and Nova Chemicals has extensive expertise in the production of ethylene and polyethylene. Together, the two companies share a strong leadership vision for the development of a circular economy and believe this partnership will propel innovation.”

According to Marshall, the research will be conducted in Canada at the existing facilities of both Nova Chemicals and Enerkem. Nova Chemicals' research will be conducted at the Centre for Applied Research in Calgary while Enerkem will be working at its facility in Edmonton.

Peter Nieuwenhuizen, Enerkem’s Vice President of Technology Strategy & Deployment, added, “With over 20 years of technology development, we have built a robust gasification platform to turn waste and biomass into fuels and chemicals with high carbon efficiency. Enerkem’s technology has the scale and versatility to supply raw materials for the circular and decarbonized chemical industry that is being created now — not just for plastics but also for many other chemical ingredients vital for everyday life.”

Nova Chemicals is committed to enabling 100% of plastics packaging as recyclable or recoverable by 2030, and 100% of plastics packaging being reused, recycled, or recovered by 2040. “This research is one of the ways Nova Chemicals is innovating to recapture the value of plastic products and create a world free of plastic waste,” said Todd Karran, President and CEO, Nova Chemicals. Working together we can shape a world that is better tomorrow than it is today.”

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