Licella advanced plastics recycling technology goes live in world first facility

advanced plastics recycling

Construction of a world-first facility using the advanced plastics recycling platform Cat-HTR (Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor) developed by Licella is complete.

The ReNew ELP facility, based in Wilton International, an established industrial site in Teesside, England, opened its doors to key representatives from the advanced recycling and plastic manufacturing value chains in October. The first stage of a flagship plant for Mura, a UK-based developer and licensee of the Cat-HTR technology, will process 20,000 tonnes annually of post-consumer, mixed plastic waste.

Andrea Polson, Marketing Director for Licella, says commissioning of the UK plant is a turning point for the company’s technology.

It comes as Licella’s plans for an advanced chemical recycling facility in Melbourne, called Advanced Recycling Victoria (ARV), ramp up.

“When ReNew ELP turns on, that will be proof of the technology operating at commercial scale,” Andrea says. 

“It’s first-of-its-kind technology. Up until now we’ve had a commercial demonstration facility in New South Wales and have progressively scaled up the technology over 15 years. But this UK facility becoming operational, recycling plastic and establishing a market is a significant milestone.

“Licella’s Cat-HTR technology is at the core of Mura’s Hydro PRS process. We can leverage the learnings from this first commercial facility when it is turned on, which is close.”

Cat-HTR uses hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) – a next-generation advanced chemical recycling technology that uses hot pressurised water to take plastic back to the oil it originally came from. It’s unique among plastic-to-oil technologies, with the ability to process mixed end-of-life plastics, including flexible and multilayer plastics, into a high yield of oil, enabling a circular economy for previously non-recyclable plastics.

advanced plastics recycling
Dr Len Humphreys, Licella Co-Founder and Cat-HTR Co-Inventor, at the commercial demonstration facility in New South Wales.

Because the process uses water to create a controlled reaction, it’s more efficient than other approaches, making it less energy intensive. 

The Licella Cat-HTR commercial demonstration facility in Somersby, on the New South Wales Central Coast, has been running trials for commercial facilities under development around the world, including the facility under development through Licella’s subsidiary ARV.

In December 2022, ARV received development licence approval from the Victorian Environment Protection Authority for an advanced recycling plant in Altona, Melbourne. 

It has also gained planning approvals from the local Hobsons Bay City Council. The facility took another step forward in August 2023 with the announcement that global packaging company Amcor ANZ, and multinational confectionery company Mondelēz International, will invest in the project. Through Amcor, Mondelēz will have access to recycled content from the ARV site to meet much of its Australian soft plastic packaging needs, reducing its need for virgin plastic.

Andrea says the investment is a crucial step in progressing ARV.

“It sends a strong message to the market and industry in general,” she says. “There are leaders within the value chain who believe that advanced recycling is important and that these early investments are needed to help accelerate these facilities coming online. The investment demonstrates an appetite from industry. They want to make this happen.”

But Andrea warns a groundswell of support and activity is not enough to create a circular economy for plastics within Australia. She says there needs to be government intervention to ensure advanced recycling is financially viable.

Government funding, including the Recycling Modernisation Fund and the Modern Manufacturing Initiative, is helping to plug the infrastructure gaps, but the economics remain challenging.

And while Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, signalled an intention to regulate packaging at an Environment Ministers meeting in June 2023, a lack of details and timeline is stymying. 

“How do you plan for these facilities when you don’t know what the policy looks like?” Andrea says. “If the policy includes mandated recycled content, what percentage and when? Currently, any post-consumer recycled content for packaging in Australia is imported. How can you compete with virgin plastic if recycled content is two-to-three times more expensive?

“Do you mandate on recycled content, which gives certainty to invest? Do you make virgin plastic more expensive – that’s what they did in the UK – to help close the gap between the linear and circular economy, or do you help to subsidise circular plastics, so it becomes more affordable, in conjunction with mandates?

“Until some of these things are addressed, we’re not going to have these facilities being built. And we need multiple.”

Andrea says a circular economy for plastics can work within Australia with collaboration and commitment from the entire supply chain. The Melbourne plant has stimulated interest from others in the market.  Now Licella is keen to bring others on the journey.  

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