How do you turn thousands of tonnes of discarded PET bottles, fleece clothing and trainers into a pure base material for the production of, for example, transparent cola bottles? For a long time, it seemed as if this complex problem would never be solved. Until last year that is, when an Eindhoven-based start-up emerged from its lab with a solution after years of research. Following several successful tests, the company will now be scaling up its system capacity from 100 to 1,000 litres at Plant One in Rotterdam.
It’s a shame actually: the existing, mechanical method used to recycle discarded PET bottles, packaging, polar fleece and trainers doesn’t allow us to remove the colours out of the plastic. As a result, PET waste is currently unsuited for high-grade, circular re-use. This means that coloured PET, or polyethylene terephthalate, needs to be ‘downcycled’ or incinerated. But this is about to change. Ioniqa, a spin-off of TU Eindhoven and the Dutch Polymer Institute, has discovered the key to producing an ‘eternal PET bottle’: a process in which PET waste of all types and colours can be endlessly recycled into pure feedstock. This raw material is suited for any application that requires new PET. And… in terms of price and quality, the recycled PET is comparable to material from fossil sources.
After this breakthrough, Ioniqa quickly faced a whole range of new challenges. Having completed all these experiments, the firm had to find a test location with the right facilities to scale up its research. One of the parties that it approached in this context was InnovatieLink, an organisation that helps innovative entrepreneurs to connect to knowledge, funding and facilities within the Chemical and Energy sectors. “Companies are looking for partners in dialogue who know what they are talking about. This allows us to accelerate the innovation process,” explains InnovatieLink innovation manager Sina Salim. “When Tonnis Hooghoudt, the CEO of Ioniqa, approached us with this question, I immediately presented the specifications to various open chemical innovation centres that we are in close touch with.”
Plant One Rotterdam
In a follow-up to these contacts, Ioniqa recently set up at Plant One Rotterdam – with the support of the Port of Rotterdam Authority and the Municipality. Here, the company is currently constructing a 1,000-litre facility that will allow it to test its circular process on a large scale. Plant One provides innovative entrepreneurs with the space they need to work on new sustainability developments. To this end, a number of sites in the Botlek area are made available for testing pilot facilities that are too large for the firm’s own laboratory. At Plant One, Ioniqa is able to take the recycling of PET waste to the next level.
Ioniqa and Plant One
Plant One Managing Director Gabriël Tschin talks about the partnership: “Ioniqa contacted me because they wanted to scale up.” The start-up is presently working together with Plant One on the construction of a new facility. “We developed a proposal as to what the facility should look like, which we used as a point of departure for joint engineering. Right now, we’re still in the middle of construction, but we hope to make the first test runs by the end of the month.” In other words, we still have to wait a bit longer to see how the 1,000-litre facility works in practice. If the tests are successful, Ioniqa can move straight on to the next phase: the financing for scaling up operations to 10 kilotonnes has already been secured.