Advanced Recycling Technologies

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Advanced recycling technologies refer to innovative processes that can efficiently recycle complex materials, such as plastics and electronics, that are difficult or impossible to recycle using traditional methods. These technologies aim to address the growing global waste problem by diverting waste from landfills and recovering valuable materials.

Impact on climate action

Advanced Recycling Technologies within Industrial Resource Efficiency bolster climate action by promoting circularity, reducing waste, and conserving resources. By efficiently recovering and repurposing materials, these innovations mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, decrease reliance on virgin resources, and contribute to a more sustainable and resilient industrial ecosystem.

Underlying
Technology

  • Chemical Recycling: This process breaks down plastic waste into its original chemical components, which can then be used to create new plastics or other valuable chemicals.
  • Pyrolysis: This process involves heating plastic waste in the absence of oxygen to break it down into oil and gas, which can be used as fuels or feedstocks for new plastics.
  • Gasification: This process converts plastic waste into syngas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide, which can be used to produce fuels, chemicals, and electricity.
  • Enzymatic Recycling: This emerging technology uses enzymes to break down plastic waste into its original monomers, which can then be used to create new plastics.

TRL : 4-7 (depending on the specific technology)

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Improved Catalysts and Processes: Researchers and startups are developing improved catalysts and processes for chemical recycling and pyrolysis to increase efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Scalable Gasification Technologies: Innovations in gasification technology are making it more scalable and cost-effective to convert plastic waste into syngas.
  • Enzyme Engineering for Plastic Recycling: Scientists are engineering enzymes that can efficiently break down different types of plastics, paving the way for enzymatic recycling to become a commercially viable solution.
  • Advanced Sorting and Separation Technologies: Improved sorting and separation technologies are essential for separating different types of plastics and other materials in the waste stream, enabling more efficient recycling.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Chemical Recycling Innovations
  • Advancements in Pyrolysis Technology
  • Gasification Innovations for Waste Conversion
  • Enzymatic Recycling Breakthroughs
  • Enhanced Catalysts and Processes
  • Enzyme Engineering for Plastic Degradation
  • Advanced Sorting Solutions

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • Plastic Bank:
    • Technology Enhancement: Plastic Bank develops advanced recycling technologies focused on the collection, processing, and recycling of plastic waste. They utilize innovative sorting and processing techniques to transform collected plastic into high-quality recycled materials.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Plastic Bank’s approach to recycling integrates social and environmental impact by incentivizing the collection of plastic waste through a reward system. They empower local communities to collect plastic waste and exchange it for goods or services.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Plastic Bank serves industries seeking sustainable solutions for plastic waste management, including consumer goods, packaging, and manufacturing sectors. Their recycled materials offer a circular economy approach to plastic use, reducing reliance on virgin plastics and promoting environmental stewardship.
  • TerraCycle:
    • Technology Enhancement: TerraCycle specializes in developing advanced recycling technologies for hard-to-recycle materials, such as flexible plastics, packaging, and electronic waste. They utilize specialized sorting and processing techniques to recycle materials that are traditionally challenging to recycle.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: TerraCycle’s advanced recycling technologies focus on the circular economy principles of waste reduction, reuse, and recycling. They offer recycling programs for a wide range of materials, including single-use plastics, e-waste, and product packaging.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: TerraCycle serves industries seeking sustainable solutions for waste management and product stewardship, including consumer packaged goods, retail, and technology sectors. Their recycling programs help companies meet sustainability goals and reduce their environmental impact.
  • Loop Industries:
    • Technology Enhancement: Loop Industries develops advanced recycling technologies for transforming low-value plastic waste into high-quality recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) resin. They utilize a proprietary depolymerization process to break down plastic waste into its basic building blocks for repolymerization.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Loop Industries’ advanced recycling technology offers a closed-loop solution for plastic waste, enabling the production of high-purity recycled PET resin suitable for food-grade applications. Their process helps address plastic pollution and promotes a circular economy for plastics.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Loop Industries serves industries seeking sustainable alternatives to virgin plastics, including food and beverage packaging, textiles, and consumer goods sectors. Their recycled PET resin offers a cost-effective and environmentally friendly solution for reducing reliance on fossil-based plastics.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley is actively involved in research on Advanced Recycling Technologies, focusing on developing innovative methods for recycling various materials and waste streams efficiently.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves exploring novel separation techniques, chemical processes, and material recovery technologies to recover valuable resources from complex waste streams, such as electronic waste, plastics, and construction materials.
    • End-use Applications: UC Berkeley’s work has applications across various industries, including electronics manufacturing, construction, and consumer goods. For example, they’re researching chemical recycling methods for converting plastic waste into high-value chemicals and feedstocks, as well as developing advanced sorting technologies for improving the recycling of mixed-material packaging.
  • University of Oxford:
    • Research Focus: The University of Oxford conducts cutting-edge research on Advanced Recycling Technologies, exploring sustainable approaches for recovering and reusing materials to minimize waste generation and environmental impact.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves interdisciplinary collaborations, combining expertise in materials science, engineering, and environmental economics to develop holistic solutions for enhancing resource efficiency and circularity in the economy.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in manufacturing, urban infrastructure, and waste management. For instance, they’re researching closed-loop recycling systems for metals, polymers, and rare earth elements used in electronics and renewable energy technologies, as well as exploring decentralized recycling technologies for community-based resource recovery and upcycling initiatives.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL):
    • Research Focus: NREL is a leader in research on Advanced Recycling Technologies, particularly in the context of renewable energy technologies and sustainable materials management.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing integrated recycling processes, circular economy models, and life cycle assessments to evaluate the environmental and economic benefits of advanced recycling technologies for renewable energy systems, such as solar panels and batteries.
    • End-use Applications: Their work finds applications in renewable energy deployment, waste valorization, and environmental stewardship. For example, they’re researching closed-loop recycling strategies for silicon-based photovoltaic modules and lithium-ion batteries, as well as exploring novel approaches for recovering critical materials like lithium, cobalt, and rare earth elements from end-of-life energy storage devices.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Some advanced recycling technologies, such as pyrolysis and gasification, are already being implemented in commercial-scale projects. However, other technologies, such as enzymatic recycling, are still in the early stages of development.