Diversion of plastics from landfills into reuse is one of the fundamental approaches to a circular economy that’s sparked fresh ideas and real-world innovation over the past months as to how to make that happen. One of those forward-thinking companies in this market is clean technology upcycler GreenMantra (Brantford, Canada). Domenic Di Mondo, the company’s Vice President, Technology and Business Development, provided a popular Op Ed article for PlasticsToday’s audience discussing the key issues facing the industry (see Plastic bans address waste management symptoms, not the sources of our problem, published September 2019).
PlasticsToday felt it would be useful to use that as a jumping off point to drill down into the specifics of the company’s own endeavors in supporting a circular economy model.
Please summarize the GreenMantra business model.
Di Mondo: GreenMantra is a clean technology leader and the first company in the world to upcycle discarded plastics into value-added polymers that can be applied as performance additives in various industries. In scientific terms, GreenMantra utilizes a patented and proprietary catalytic depolymerization process to shorten the chain of plastics into smaller polymers which are inert and non-volatile.
In simpler terms, we take discarded plastics, pass them through a unique reaction (Greenmantra production plant seen at left), and transform them into completely novel materials which are used can be used in various markets to lower costs, improve performance, and increase recycled content. These materials can then be used back into plastics, thereby creating a completely circular solution. But because we transform the molecule and enhance the properties, we also open up new markets for these materials such as for asphalt roads and roofing products. This added versatility means that there are new homes for these discarded plastics that were note previously available. It’s a truly exciting development, especially considering the current focus on ensuring that plastic is responsibly managed.
Our business model is successful due to a combination of factors:
- First and foremost, we have unlocked a way to truly upcycle discarded plastics and create a product which solves real problems for our customers;
- Secondly, we are tapping into a growing need in the plastics market by enabling our customers to expand the percentage of recycled plastics that they can incorporate without sacrificing processing speed, capacity, or end-product properties.
In order to solve the world’s plastic problem, a concerted global effort is required around the three Rs of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. For the third “R” to be realized, it is imperative that there is a demand for the post-use plastic which can economically justify the collection process. GreenMantra is creating this demand by utilizing discarded plastic as a feedstock to create a novel end product that is higher value because it allows for enhanced performance in our end applications.
Your business is to produce “ceranovus, a series of polyethylene and polypropylene waxes and polymer additives”…what is that exactly?
Di Mondo: GreenMantra’s products are completely different from products produced by recyclate material suppliers. Recyclates are simply plastics that have been sorted, melted, and extruded into small pieces so they can be reused. This is traditional mechanical recycling.
This is not what GreenMantra does—instead, we upcycle. Our feedstock is similarly discarded plastics, but we perform a unique process to completely transform the plastic into new materials which have upgraded end properties—hence the term “upcycled”.
These new products are not technically classified as recyclates, instead they are polymers with shorter chains than the starting plastic molecule. We take sorted streams of discarded polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) plastic in various forms (flake, regrind, pellet, etc.) and a range of properties (melt flow, chain-length, etc.) and transform this into a consistent homogeneous material with a tight molecular weight distribution.
How would you describe these materials?
Di Mondo: From a physical standpoint, our products are small plastic pellets that are dark in color (shown right). From a chemical standpoint, the properties have been completely changed from the properties of the starting plastic. One example of this type of change is seen when comparing the viscosity or rheology of our product—how it flows—to the starting plastic.
When heated, melted plastic would be analogous to tar or honey, while our product would more closely compare to the consistency of cream or water.
How efficient is your process?
Di Mondo: One of the most unique aspects of GreenMantra’s process is that our process is incredibly energy-efficient process because our technology is based on what we like to call “elegant chemistry.” Compared to standard manufacturing facilities or traditional chemical recycling companies, GreenMantra operates in a very efficient way. This is demonstrated by the following characteristics of our process:
- No solvents are added to our process;
- Processing temperatures and pressures are very low, dramatically reducing the energy requirements;
- No waste water is generated;
- Our overall product yield is 90+%, reducing the need to find homes for by-product waste streams.
Because of our high yield, there is a direct correlation in the amount of waste we remove from landfill: For every pound of product that GreenMantra produces, we deflect about one pound of plastic from the landfill.
Next: Products, markets and customers
What are your specific products and in what form are they delivered to customers?
Di Mondo: We can tailor the properties of our products to the needs of our end customers and applications. Currently, we offer three additives based on polyethylene and one additive based on polypropylene. We also commissioned a new line this year to produce novel styrene polymers from discarded polystyrene products (for example, expanded polystyrene insulation, coffee lids, foam peanuts, etc.) and expect to have these new materials commercially available next year.
These products are delivered to customers in bags or supersacks via rail, truck, and, in the case of international customers, via sea freight.
How do your products compare to alternatives?
Di Mondo: Our products are low molecular weight polymers which serve as additives/processing aids. Other companies produce low molecular weight polymers (sometimes referred to as waxes) from prime/virgin resins, i.e., petrochemical feedstocks. Those companies are going in the opposite direction by taking petro-based monomer and building them up from small to larger chains. We do the opposite, we take a polymer and break it at specific points to make it smaller. This allows us to achieve certain properties that cannot be realized from the traditional process, and this is one of the reasons our products don’t force customers to sacrifice end-product performance in order to achieve processing speed/efficiency and vice versa.
Of course, competitive products produced via the petrochemical route rely on consumption of finite natural resources. GreenMantra creates products from waste plastics, and therefore our products are fully sustainable and contribute to the circular economy—and are also available for our customers to declare recycled content.
Who are your customers? And how do they use your products?
Di Mondo: We can classify our current customers into two broad groups (1) industrial manufacturers utilizing bitumen/asphalt and (2) plastic manufacturers using polyethylene or polypropylene.
If we consider the first group of customers, we work with companies at every part of the asphalt value chain – from the refiner who receives bitumen from the production of crude oil – all the way to the companies who are manufacturing asphalt shingles or roads.
A notable case study can be seen in the Discovery Channel explains how GreenMantra has partnered with companies like Crayola to recycle discarded plastic markers and convert them into additives that are used by Malarkey, a major roofing product manufacturer, to make its products. The company highlights "Repurposed Polymers from Reclaimed Plastic and Synthetic Rubber” on their website, and they promote their product third-party certification (GreenCircle) for sustainability, which our product helps enable.
Similarly, we work with companies across the value chain. So a second group of customers are plastic processors from compounders to masterbatch producers all the way to converters. There’s no doubt that you have heard about the commitments from the majority of the world’s largest brands to increase the recycled content used in their end products. As these companies work to achieve these recycled content goals, it's common knowledge that they begin to struggle reaching higher levels of recycled plastic. These challenges are due to the fact that recycled plastics aren’t always perfect, and the inherent variability of recyclate slows down manufacturers’ processes and/or causes performance issues in the final products.
This is where GreenMantra’s materials come into play. At a very small level—of just 1-5%—our products allow manufacturers to regain their manufacturing speed and enhance the end properties of their products. This is unheard of in the plastic industry; almost always, when formulators use an additive to enhance processing capabilities or to strengthen the end product, they are forced to sacrifice in the other area. We defy that model. And because our products are derived from discarded plastics, we are also contributing to the overall recycled content of the end product.
In a nutshell, across all of our customer base, GreenMantra products help manufacturers improve performance of their products, increase process efficiency and reduce formulation costs. We achieve all of this while also enhancing the sustainability profile of our customers’ end products.
Next: Packaging—and what’s ahead
Can your products be remolded into packaging?
Di Mondo: In a very literal sense, no. The products we produce are no longer plastics so they cannot be directly remolded into products or packaging. However, they are used as an additive in plastic products and packaging in the ways previously described: Our materials can be used with standard prime resins as a performance booster and/or processing aid. However, we’re seeing the greatest interest for processing aids from those companies which are facing challenges as they work to increase the percentage of recyclate in their end products and packages.
What’s happening now?
Di Mondo: We have business across North America and the Middle East. This fall, we visited the K Show in Germany to establish a logistical channel for our products in Europe and to begin engaging with that market. It was a successful show for us, and we now have projects in place with a number of plastic manufacturers in the EU.
Di Mondo: We are now working to extend to adjacent spaces for both markets of plastics and asphalt. We entered the plastics market by developing application data and case studies specific to extrusion (plastic decking, compounding, plastic sheets, etc.) and injection molding (plastic parts). Now that we have developed a robust pipeline of customers in those two spaces, we are currently conducting application testing around two other plastic processing techniques. Once we have this data, we will be able to engage more deeply with companies who are facing challenges around PCR content in plastic packaging.
For the asphalt area, we have expanded our conversation beyond roofing and are in the beginning stages of working with a few companies in the asphalt road space. We are also in the process of developing some additional case studies specific to ground tire rubber (GTR), and discarded plastic in roads. We have preliminary data that shows a small percentage of GreenMantra material in asphalt can dramatically increase the ability of asphalt companies to incorporate GTR. This not only enhances sustainability but also decreases costs for the manufacturer, it’s a win-win!
As mentioned earlier, we have recently launched a new process and demonstration plant producing styrene-based polymers. We see opportunity for these products as additives within extruded PS foam insulation, PS plastic processing, as well as, inks and coatings.
There’s a common theme across our customer base—we find the most success where we can allow a customer to gain a sustainability story (i.e., enhance PCR content or incorporate GTR) and also achieve some type of cost savings, be it in formulation/raw material costs or via processing speed and productivity enhancement. We will continue to focus on applications where these two things are of value.
Di Mondo: GreenMantra is achieving our mission to be a Catalyst For Sustainable Impact within the plastics and chemical recycling spaces. We believe that by doing good for the world and showing that it can be done profitably, we will encourage people to follow our path and pursue their own ideas.