Plastics to become a key towards fossil-free sustainability by 2030?

#IdentiPlast turning 20 might be at the right age to leave parents’ house and take charge for Plastics’ future! R.W. Lang from JKU-Linz, Austria illustrated material volume to have increased from 200mln m³ 1987 at 100+100 Steel & Plastics ratio to 500mln m³ at 200+300, praising resource savings in their manufacturing and use! Opportunities to even further accelerate this trend deem unprecedented with 3D printing coming into play, particularly in view of isotropic and sandwich material developments. Yes, Plastic can replace steel, ceramics and glass in many applications and might be further enhanced to go beyond current states.

The beautiful thing about plastics is their composition, working from the same principal elements like nature: Carbon – Hydrogen – Oxygen in all kinds of combinations and morphologies. Maybe sometimes with not so nice adders from their fabrication, but in general nothing that couldn’t be dealt with by separation in a controlled accelerated decomposition. Unfortunately some fossil-hungry pyromaniacs hold themselves out as the bridge between today’s state of art in Segregating, Sorting & Recycling and Circular Economy, claiming Carbon Credits for burning fossil derived secondary fuels. Selling this concept as service to society, paying less for the energy recovered than primary fuels would cost. So uncovered cost overruns get socialized to the burden of local societies’ purchasing power, driving economies and available jobs. Who by the way can explain what Circular Economy gaps these, to most part Anergy-recovery practices, can bridge? And do we really need it, given geothermal, (concentrated) solar-thermal and immaterial Renewable Power generation possibilities? So I’d say, Plastics Industry beware from all these blugders!

Closing the loop to circularity could be economically achieved by Carbon Recycling from not meaningfully compostable carbohydrates and hydrocarbons. The later even for energy recovery increasingly needing to be decarbonized prior to electrochemical transformation. And we mean thermo-chemical deposition of physical Carbon on a catalyst and not pyrolysis char nor hydrothermal synthesis. Therefore we call it Physical Carbon Recycling in differentiation to Chemical Carbon Recycling, recently making itself bespoken of. The difference is ruggedness of output efficiency against feedstock composition variations and purity of output. Carbon in a multi-wall tubular crystalline graphene-like morphology with a high electron mobility, deposited on a catalyst from a hydrocarbon gas under dissociation of the Hydrogen. A Hydrogen production consuming only half the transformation energy per molecule than Steam Methane Reforming would need.

As this process had originally been developed for special materials it may be perceived expensive. Reusing the logistically storable and transportable Carbon however as a refinery feedstock, the catalyst is recycled being the highest cost driver of the process. In addition temperature regimes for chemical reaction of the Carbon can be tailored to levels below unwanted chain-reactions by introducing part of the transformation energy electrically. In other words, cleaner and leaner to refine than coal or oil. If used for refining virgin plastics over half their Carbon source would come from carbohydrates. Once virgin plastics’ fabrication from Recycled Carbon was implemented, also the hydrocarbon fractions in waste could be seen non-fossil derived, resulting eventually in a 100% fossil-free plastics industry. So if there was a will, there would be a way!

Waste valorization by this Carbon Recycling for re-use breaks even at arms’ length crude oil prices starting from U$ 30 per barrel. It works equally for bio-plastics or bio-degradable end of life cycle synthetic materials. And if there were economically efficient ways to use CO2 as material synthesis feedstock, the transformation loss CO2 emissions from Carbon Recycling and its downstream refining would still remain available. So nobody working on incremental innovations would need to feel displaced!

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