Finnish firm to spin off plastics recycling arm

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd has announced it plans to spin out a new company – Olefy Technologies. 

The new company will market its patent-pending plastics recycling technology that it claims can extract over 70% virgin grade plastics and chemical raw materials components from plastic waste. The Olefy process is based on gasification. It breaks plastic waste into olefins and other valuable hydrocarbons. VTT said the Olefy process allows plastic to be recycled an infinite number of times.

The working Olefy pilot is successfully running at VTT Bioruukki Pilot Centre in Espoo, Finland. The company is currently discussing partnerships and negotiating with investors for scaling, business development, and licensing of the technology.  The first industrial demonstration operation is expected to be operational by 2026.

“One of the problems with current recycling methods is that the quality degrades every time plastic is recycled. After several rounds of mechanical recycling, the quality becomes too poor, and the plastic is no longer usable and goes to a landfill,” said Matti Nieminen, head of technology at Olefy.

“With the Olefy recycling process, the quality of the plastic is equal to virgin grade, so it can be recycled indefinitely and materials no longer need to end up in landfills. In essence, Olefy will make it possible for plastic to be a true part of the circular economy.”

Matti Nieminen and Timo Sokka

Today, only eight to 10% of global plastic waste gets recycled, primarily through mechanical recycling. The opportunity to get virgin quality plastic from previously unusable plastic waste means it is economically viable to recycle most of the world’s plastics with minimal sorting.

No need for naptha

Naphtha is a crude oil product normally needed for conventional plastic manufacturing. Olefy’s new technology eliminates the need for naphtha feedstock and is also able to produce enough energy for the process. 

Essentially, with the Olefy process, it takes the same amount of ethylene or propylene based waste plastic as higher-cost naphtha feedstock to produce a ton of virgin grade plastic material.

At the same time, the process itself lowers the cost of production of recycled plastic so significantly that it can lower the bar for global companies to use it as a higher percentage of recycled material in their products and packaging.

“The economic benefits of having virgin grade components from recycled materials can completely change the dynamic of global oil consumption. Olefy will significantly reduce the need to use new oil for making plastic and maybe even create a new economic incentive to clean up plastic from land and water as it becomes a valued commodity,” Nieminen said.

There are about 500 industrial steam cracker operations around the world. A steam cracker is a petrochemical plant that breaks down light hydrocarbons, such as ethane, propane, and light naphtha, to produce ethylene. Olefy’s new technologies economically open up a new world and value for plastic waste for these facilities. 

“This technology enables direct parallel integration of the Olefy modules into existing steam cracker sites around the world to effectively produce virgin grade olefins, which are converted back to virgin grade plastics. Significantly lower capital expenditure requirements, accelerating market demand, and price premiums make these investments also very attractive for the steam cracker operators,” said Timo Sokka, head of business at Olefy.

Olefy’s technology has been developed as part of VTT LaunchPad, a science-based incubator, where VTT researchers and technology are brought together with business expertise and investors to renew industries. VTT LaunchPad supports incubator teams to develop VTT-owned IPR into fundable spin-off companies.