Hydrochemolytic Upcycling of Polyethylene: An Efficient, Lower-Energy Technology to Produce Paraffins in High Yield and Purity

This new technology overcomes both the inherent difficulty of chemically recycling addition polymers like polyethylene (PE) and the energy intensity of thermolytic methods. From polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene to tire rubber, the principal challenge in chemically transforming addition-reaction polymers is their chemical inertness. Indeed, like its lower-molecular-weight, paraffinic homologs, PE is “parum affinis” (Lat., without affinity): it is relatively unreactive. Thermolytic methods overcome that inertness by thermally energizing all bonds in PE, both C-H and C-C, thereby “pushing” them over the activation barrier to bond-breaking.

Not only does this require high energy input; the thermodynamic product is a complex mixture of compounds with diverse chemical functionality.
The patented Hydrochemolytic™ Polymer Upcycling (HPU) process by Aduro Clean Technologies overcomes both problems by operating at comparatively low temperatures (<375 ºC) to obtain the kinetic product, a mixture of paraffins comprising 98.9% saturated, linear hydrocarbon functionality (balance is olefin and aromatic). Due to its configurability, the molecular weight distribution may be controlled to obtain average carbon number values as low as about 15 with expected conversion efficiencies for the optimized process of around 95%. The paraffinic product may be further processed to impart cold properties that make it suitable for drop-in diesel and jet fuels, or it can be used as ethylene cracker feed in support of chemical circularity.

A presentation by Anil Jhawar, VP Technology & Process Development at Aduro Clean Technologies Inc..


Question 1: What drives you?
According to a report titled “5 opportunities of circular economy” written by David McGinty and published by World Resources Institute in February 2021, more than 100 billion tons of resources enter the economy every year. However, just about 8-9% gets recycled. Further, as per the report, use of resources has tripled in the last 50 years, and it could double again by 2050 if we continue to use the resources and discard the end-of-life products as of today. The case of waste plastic is alarming – it is estimated that if plastic disposal continues as is, there could be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Such practice of extensive consumption of resources and disposal of end-of-life products has significant impact on humans, wildlife, and the planet. It is more urgent than ever to shift from linear economy (use-it-and-throw-it-away) models to a circular economy model where waste of one process/technology becomes resource for another technology, and the end-of-life products and materials are recycled and kept in use for longer time. I am a strong advocate of circular economy approach/model, and what drives me is my interest (and thus the challenges) to develop sustainable, configurable, and integrated technology platform, and deploy such technologies to pave the path for circular economy.

Question 2: Why should the delegate attend your presentation?
The Statista report published in Nov 2021 mentions that the global plastic production in 2020 was 367 million metric tonnes, and the cumulative volume of plastic produced worldwide from 1950 to 2017 amounts to 9.2 billions metric tonne. Despite this, and the fact that plastic production continues to increase each year, the UN Environmental Programme reports that just 9% of this plastic is recycled and 12% is incinerated; the rest being disposed, which ends up polluting land, rivers, and ocean. These numbers indicate that waste plastic is a global issue that should be addressed with utmost priority. With the diligent work by a team of research scientists and engineers over a decade, Aduro Clean Technologies has developed an innovative technology platform that is highly efficient and adaptable/scalable for chemical recycling of end-of-use plastic waste. We name this tunable technology platform as “Hydrochemolysis™” and is applicable for upgrading of heavy oil as well as transformation of renewable oil (triglyceride) into industrial chemicals/solvents. In this presentation, we will be demonstrating what we have achieved, what are the potential applications of this innovative technology in renewable chemicals space, and what are our models/plans to deploy our technology to address global issues such as waste plastic. This would be of interest for those whose mission and vision echo ours and are looking for innovative and adaptable technologies to address the pressing issues worldwide.

Question 3: What emerging technologies / trends do you see as having the greatest potential in the short and long run?
To be adaptable in circular economy model, the technologies not only need to be efficient but also need to be configurable, flexible, and scalable for local as well as centralized implementation. The technologies that are configurable, apart from the production side business model, also on the consumer side business model, will most likely be an important part of circular economy, and such technologies will have the greatest potential. I firmly believe that the combination of chemical and mechanical recycling analogous to petroleum refinery operations will be way to recycle plastics into high value products or monomers to enable circularity.

Question 4: What kind of impact do you expect them to have?
Development of sustainable technology platforms for efficient utilization of renewable resources as a resource of energy and materials helps address the pressing issues related to depleting resources, energy, and the environment. Consequently, with the development of innovative ways for processing and transforming renewable resources to value-added products and/or feedstocks, such technologies will emerge as an integral part of the holistic approach of sustainable development.

Question 5: What are the barriers that might stand in the way?
The insufficient information on quality, and non-homogeneity of the feedstock might be a potential barrier that may lead to batch-to-batch variability. Moreover, with variation in feedstock from batch-to-batch or from site-to-site (in case of local implementation), challenges will be to develop a well-defined process that works for feeds of somewhat different composition. The potential implications of this will be that the quality of product will be compromised. The lack of proper waste/renewable feedstock collection mechanism/infrastructure is the other potential barrier that may pose supply chain issues.

About Anil Jhawar
Anil Jhawar is VP Technology and Process Development at Aduro Clean Technologies Inc. Dr. Jhawar has a PhD degree in chemical engineering. With more than 15 years of research experience in academia and industry. Dr. Jhawar is an enthusiast researcher and technology developer in the field of renewable fuels, supercritical fluids, high pressure systems, and pyrolysis. Dr. Jhawar has extensively worked in the area of plastic upcycling and heavy oil upgrading. Dr. Jhawar has expertise in lab, pilot plant operations, and scale-up. Dr. Jhawar’s interest lies in the development of technology platform to address pressing issues related to energy, environment, and resources.

About Aduro Clean Technologies Inc.
Aduro Clean Technologies is a developer of patented water-based technologies to chemically recycle waste plastics; convert heavy crude and bitumen into lighter, more valuable oil; and transform renewable oils into higher-value fuels or renewable chemicals. The Company’s Hydrochemolytic™ technology activates unique properties of water in a chemistry platform that operates at relatively low temperatures and cost, a game-changing approach that converts low-value feedstocks into 21st-century resources. With funding and support from Bioindustrial Innovation Canada, the company has developed a pre-pilot reactor system to upgrade heavy petroleum and plastics.

Anil Jhawar is speaker at the 2022 edition of the Circular Chemistry Conference.

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