Study: Chemical recycling may need decades to be ?low cost'

Chemical recycling technologies could take until 2050 to have enough scale to achieve a low-cost position in the marketplace, according to an analysis from consulting firm IHS Markit presented at a recent industry conference.

The new study, from the firm's Circular Plastics Service, predicts that the percentage of plastics from recycled sources could grow from 15 percent of total production today to 50 percent by 2050.

It predicts steady, incremental growth in traditional mechanical recycling but estimates that the potential for plastics made from chemical recycling will remain fairly limited until 2030 and could show significant growth after 2040.

The analysis came in comments and presentations from IHS consultants at the online Global Plastics Summit, held Oct. 25-28 and sponsored by the firm.

Vice President Anthony Palmer said the cost structure for chemical recycling, which breaks down the polymer bonds of plastics to recycle them, is currently "unfavorable."

"The cost structure is unfavorable right now," Palmer said. "In fact, our analysis … had a cost curve view for 2030, and … in that situation, chemical recycling was still more expensive in most regions than virgin."

But he said that over the next few decades, chemical recycling could follow the pattern of other plastics resin technologies and start to see "significant reductions" in fixed costs.

"The conclusion I would say right now is that yes, chemical [recycling] is more expensive than virgin. Mechanical is lower cost," Palmer said. "But in the long-term view, depending on the experience curve and how these technologies develop, we could expect to see a more significant improvement when we look out to the 2050 time frame."

» Publication Date: 03/11/2021

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