Pyrowave - regeneration of plastics through microwaves
Turning plastic waste into chemicals used to make new plastics again
Pitch us on your solution
At present, 320 million tons of plastics are produced and around 14%-18% of waste plastics generation is collected for recycling, the rest is going to landfill and incineration without any further valorization.
The root cause of low recycling rates is the lack of markets for recovered plastics because the quality of the material produced with traditional mechanical recycling technologies is not identical to virgin material. Chemical recycling technologies like Pyrowave are part of a new family of technologies that focus on convert plastic waste into basic building blocks, the monomers, for which there is a global market and enables the complete regeneration of plastics into virgin applications like packaging.
The modular systems allows rapid scaling of the technology by adding our equipment to traditional recycling operations.
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What is the problem you are solving?
Plastics are fast becoming one of the most prolific materials on the planet. Half of all the plastics ever produced were made in the last 13 years. At present, 320 million tons of plastics are produced and around 14%-18% of waste plastics generation is collected for recycling, the rest is going to landfill and incineration without any further valorization. McKinsey and Company and the European Commission estimate that by 2050, the demand for recycled plastics will reach 60% of a global market of nearly 1B tons/year. This means that in 2050, the plastic recycling industry will produce double the amount of plastics that the whole plastic industry is producing today.
The problem at the source of low plastic recycling is the lack of market: there is very little demand for recycled plastics as they cannot return into original applications, which limits the number of players interested in buying these products. Chemical recycling technologies are seen as game changers because they can convert these streams of plastic waste into building blocks like monomers or naphtha that are common chemical feedstock in the chemical industry and therefore opening up the doors to global billion dollars markets.
Who are you serving?
Pyrowave’s technology is currently developed to address the polystyrene market and it is the intention to expand the technology to polyolefins and therefore increase the addressable market size from 7% to 62%. Our target users for the technology are recycling facilities and chemical operators that are using our licensed process and equipment to perform the conversion.
The two major markets that will be served with the technology are the styrene market (30 million tons/year) and the naphtha market (270 million tons/year). We already have in place offtake agreements with various chemical companies involved in styrene and naphtha production that will take the products made by our equipment user to introduce into production of virgin products.
What is your solution?
The Pyrowave process is built around a modular core microwave reactor using our proprietary Catalytic Microwave Depolymerization (CMD) technology. The process involves a first step of dissolution in a mixing tank where the feedstock is mixed with partially cracked material from the reactor and pumped into the CMD reactor for further depolymerisation. The reactor produces 3 main product streams: the monomer concentrate that leaves the reactor as vapor and later condensed to form a liquid; the solid carbon residue, that is removed with the centrifuge separator, and a non-condensable gas containing primarily hydrogen and methane that is later flared. The CMD technology along with the unique continuous centrifuge system that removes solid residues is designed to process polymer feedstocks with heavy loads of contamination including pigments, lids, labels, glass, metal and copolymers. These contaminants are removed by our centrifuge system in continuous which ensures a smooth operation regardless of the contamination level.
After the CMD reactor, the vapors are condensed to separate the condensable portion from the non-condensable flare gas. In the case of polyolefins feedstocks, the condensable containing waxes and naphtha products is then further purified through a series of short path and distillation columns as well as final cleaning operations to recover purified wax and fractions of naphtha of various molecular weight.
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Where is your solution team headquartered?Montréal, QC, Canada
Our solution's stage of development:
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Describe what makes your solution innovative.
Pyrowave is the result of 10 years of R&D and piloting. It is the only microwave reactor at industrial scale that operates in continuous. The advantage is that it uses electrical energy to convert plastic waste into virgin-like chemicals usable to make new products. It therefore can use renewable energy to restructure and reshape the matter and give it multiple lives. It represents a major achievement in chemical engineering as it is the first platform that can apply microwave chemistry at industrial scale, while known for having multiple benefits in a series of chemical reactions.
The depolymerisation is a series cracking reactions following a random scission mechanism. The objective is to maximize the production of a specific range of molecular weight without going to the production of non-condensable gases that have low market value. The microwaves allow to achieving high reaction rate by locally increasing the temperature beyond the average temperature of the reactor bed (high local temperatures). This allows achieving short residence time at high temperature, which maximises the yield of product and the selectivity for intermediate molecular weight products. It also allows avoiding the use of an expensive catalyst that is also very sensitive to contamination, which is typical of recycled plastics feedstocks.
Describe the core technology that your solution utilizes.
We use is microwave technology combined with a series of computer controls and learnings to adaptto the feedstock. We like to talk about our approach as photosynthetic chemistry where, to make analogy with nature, the power of the sun is used to restructure the carbon into new components through a series of chemical reactions involved in the photosynthetic cycle. It uses the renewable source of energy from the sun to provide the work needed to reshape the matter.
Our microwave reactor is a bit like that where we use the power of renewable energy, just like the sun, to reorganize the molecular structure of the chemicals and "reset" the life of the waste so it can be reused again in new applications.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Why do you expect your solution to address the problem?
The low recycling of plastics is due to the absence of markets for recycled plastics. It is a quality problem: current mechanical processes are not able to regenerate the plastics to the same level as new. Instead, we propose a "molecular" approach where we focus on breaking down the structure into smaller blocks that can be more easily separated and purified. then these blocks are re-attached in various structures to form new compounds.
To give an analogy, in nature when a tree dies, a series of chemical decomposition reaction occurs involving fungis and other organisms that break the wood structure (lignin, cellulose) into smaller components. These components then latter serve as food (intrant) to other microorganisms that can reorganise the material into new structures. This is similar to our approach.
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In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people are you currently serving with your solution? How many will you be serving in one year? How about in five years?
Current number of people we are serving: >41,000 (city of Valleyfield and surrounding areas)
Number in 1 year: >2,000,000 (we are expanding to City of Montreal and othher major cities)
Number in 5 years: >50,000,000 (we wish to process the plastics generated in the North-East of USA/CANADA and various areas in Europe)
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our next year is mainly focused on scaling up the business model through a series of licensing agreements with identified majors in the chemical industry. We want to increase the volume processed at our demonstration facility and start shipping larger quantities of refined product to our customers.
In the next 5 years, we want to have multiple licensing agreements where Pyrowave would deliver equipment to operators operating under our licensing agreements. We want to have over 50M in sales annually in 5 years.
What are the barriers that currently exist for you to accomplish your goals for the next year and for the next five years?
a) The barriers are mainly technical as our licensee need to have all authorization to operate our equipment as it is converting plastics into chemicals. Handling and exposure to chemicals is subject to several regulations.
b) Access to feedstock is always a challenge as we are currently assisting to a revolution in the recycling industry. While there was no market for plastic waste, technologies like ours is changing this paradigm and now the value chain has to organize itself and start collecting more material as we need more to feed our process.
c) The value chain also need to be cost effective and there are several costs barriers in various jurisdictions. In particular, we are advocating to have more programs that compensate collection and sorting of plastic material in order to make the cost of the feedstock competitive to crude oil, which is currently the main feedstock to virgin plastic material.
How are you planning to overcome these barriers?
a) To address permitting barriers, we are working closely with the authorities and with clients that already have the permits and experience in getting such permits.
b) To access feedstock, we are working with industrial companies first as they have alot of post-industrial material for which they pay to get rid of. It is a low-hanging fruit that gives alot of material free of charge in the short term. We are also establishing partnerships with large waste industrial operators in order to secure longer term supply of post-consumer material.
c) To see compensation of collection and sorting, we are advocating for minimum recycled content in new packaging and plastic products. We are also pushing the agenda for extended producer responsibility programs (EPR) in more jurisdictions to cover costs of collection and sorting of plastic waste.
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If you selected Other, please explain here.
How many people work on your solution team?
Closed Loop Partner mentionned about Pyrowave's team: "Pyrowave has been backed by a strong team of executives and investors, including high profile board members and advisors who have a strong understanding of the market, and developed a strategy that fits the market need"
We have 11 employees full time and expand to 15 in the next 6 months. We have a board with senior people from the industry.
For how many years have you been working on your solution?
Why are you and your team best-placed to deliver this solution?
The team survived 10 years of bootstrapping a technology from lab to industry, raising money around while nobody was talking about plastic waste being an issue 10 years ago! That is enough to demonstrate how extraordinary is this team.
The technology developped with microwave is nowhere seen. We worked with all the largest microwave power system companies and none had seen people able to master the microwaves for chemical decomposition like what we do. Our unique combination of engineers from diverse areas have created this unique technology that is now at industrial scale.
Beyond the founders, the company attracted in the last 6 months key executives from the industry as they see Pyrowave being the leading technology in this new field. Our team is now very driven to make this innovation available at commercial scale.
With what organizations are you currently partnering, if any? How are you working with them?
Pyrowave led the formation of the Closed-Loop Polystyrene consortium launched at the G7 in Halifax. We are therefore partnering with leading styrenics producer (INEOS) and north-american leader in plastic recycling ReVital Polymers. We also work with several large brandowners in the food industry as well as in the rubber industry for which announcements will be made. Pyrowave works with Total Petrochemicals, the Styrenics Circular Solution association in Europe as well as the CITEO and EEQ, the recycling compensation programs in Europe and Québec, respectively. Pyrowave works with several large brandowners that will be part of future annoucements in 2019.
What is your business model?
Pyrowave long term business model is to operate as OEM and licensing company. We are selling turnkey modular systems and we collect royalties on product made by the machines.
In the short term, we are also producing chemicals and operating the technology in our plant in Montreal and selling chemicals to large corporations.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We have been succesful at raising capital in the past 10 years and are currently raising additional series B to secure the commercialization effort. We have hired executives and will hire sales team along with technical service team to support deployment in North America and Europe. We also plan to use some funds to increase the plant capacity to ensure breakeven point.
Why are you applying to Solve?
We have alot of debates around the most optimum business model to scale and deploy the technology. In particular, we want to understand what are the best way to monetize the technology. Our platform offers alot of flexibility and we want to increase the discussions around innovative business models to operate in this new industry.
What types of connections and partnerships would be most catalytic for your solution?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
With what organizations would you like to partner, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would like to participate with major firms involved in re-thinking the future of recycling. In particular, McKinsey and Company, the Ellen Macarthur Foundation, various recycling industry as well as chemical industry associations.
If you would like to apply for the AI Innovations Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If you are not already using AI in your solution, explain why it is necessary for your solution to be successful and how you plan to incorporate it.
If you would like to apply for the GM Prize on Circular Economy, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
We are initiating a program on the use of our recycled styrene into synthetic rubber with major tire manufacturers. Having this award from General Motors would certainly go for advancing this new opportunity.
If you would like to apply for the Innovation for Women Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution.
If you would like to apply for the Innospark Ventures Prize, describe how you and your team will utilize the prize to advance your solution. If your solution utilizes data, describe how you will ensure that the data is sourced, maintained, and used ethically and responsibly.
- Jocelyn Doucet CEO, Pyrowave