The iCAREPLAST project has successfully converted solid plastic waste into aromatic molecules through a series of thermocatalytic and separation processes.
Real plastic waste mixtures were extensively characterised, which served as a guide for tailor-made pre-treatment. Optimal plastic mixtures were selected for maximum pyrolysis liquid yield and molecular composition. Various pyrolysis tests achieved high liquid yields and improved product content. Efficient hydrocarbon separation membranes were identified and showed promise in laboratory-scale models. Alkylation, aromatisation and oxycombustion tests guided the selection of materials, catalysts and electrochemical stack configuration. Integration of newly-developed pre-treatment of complex plastic mixtures, solids removal, and reactor modifications went smoothly and consolidated as a solid pyrolysis technology. Durability tests confirmed the stability and quality of the pyrolysis fluids. Pilot-scale aromatisation validated the reactor design using an industrial zeolitic catalyst, and a steady-state model encapsulates the iCAREPLAST process, ensuring accurate representation. Comprehensive LCA modelling and Life Cycle Cost (LCC) assessments were carried out for environmental and economic evaluation. Detailed market and techno-economic analyses were carried out investigating the production of linear alkylbenzenes, aromatics and the potential commercialisation of by-products (CO2 and char).
Thus, iCAREPLAST has demonstrated at pilot-plant scale (TRL-7) a quantifiable increase in plastic upcycling efficiency (12% increment in pyrolysis liquid yield, 45% reduction in energy requirements, 95% reduction in residues), which has an impact on the economic yield of the process (up to 200%).
Thus, with the work carried out, iCAREPLAST has produced nine pivotal Key Exploitable Results, including 1) Novel pre-treatment for post-consumer plastic blends; 2) Cutting-edge char extraction system; 3) Product Sustainability tools, enabling real-time ecological performance analysis for plant managers; 4) Innovative unit for separating aromatic products; 5) Ground-breaking carbon-capture-enabling oxycombustion unit for side stream gases; 6) Novel alkylation catalyst formulation; 7) Catalytic processes in plastic-mixture pyrolysis; 8) Control architecture optimising liquid pyrolysis yield through temperature and composition manipulation; 9) Real-time monitoring LCA application.
iCAREPLAST contributes to the reuse and recycling of plastic waste materials by increasing the efficiency in the chemical recycling process and upcycling the quality of the secondary materials to virgin quality, thus contributing to the economic viability of the process. Besides, thanks to the real-time control and LCA monitoring, optimal use of the energy and material resources is achieved. The reuse of by-products for energy valorisation (with CO2 capture) increases the energy efficiency of the process and reduces the amount of residues. Moreover, all the process units can be operated using electricity, which makes the process ready for the upcoming renewable energy landscape. Altogether, it contributes to the energy and materials efficiency of the process industries (in particular plastic waste management), unlocking an economically effective business model based on the chemical upcycling of plastic materials to virgin-quality chemicals. We extend our sincere gratitude to the iCAREPLAST consortium for their continued dedication and innovative contributions. Their collaborative efforts have not only driven the project forward, but also laid new foundations for the sustainable management of plastic waste. The innovations achieved through this effort serve as a model for continuing the fight against plastic pollution.