The first commercial scale plant dedicated to recycling laminated plastics and aluminium packaging has entered the final stage of commissioning.
The Alconbury facility has been built by Enval, a spin-off of the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Cambridge. Enval’s business development director, David Boorman, told MRW it will start commercial operations by the end of the year.
The plant will process up to 2,000 tonnes of laminated packaging material per year turning it into some 200 tonnes of aluminium and 1,400 tonnes of unrefined oil through a process called pyrolysis (described below).
The gas produced during the process will be used to generate electricity, enough to power the facility.
Enval claims the plant is the first of its kind in the world.
Boorman said the facility would be a demonstration to attract potential buyers, especially large waste management companies.
Enval wants the technology to be used at material recycling facilities (MRFs) to recover of aluminium from packaging. Boorman estimated the recycled aluminium produced would be worth as much as 60% of the equivalent amount of raw aluminium.
“This is a material that at the moment is going to landfill or incineration,” he said. “When we start showing the financial returns of recovery the aluminium, it starts becoming really attractive.”
The plant can process unwashed post-consumer laminate packaging, as well as the non-paper output from beverage carton recycling.
Boorman declined to reveal the price of the facility, saying that it was part of a confidential commercial agreement. However, he said that Enval expected the payback period for buyers to be in the three to four-year range.
A deal with a major waste management company was already being discussed, he said.
Works on the commercial scale plant started in November 2012, after Enval obtained financial support from three packaging producers, Kraft Foods, Nestle and Mondelez International. Before that, the company had tested the process with a bench scale plant based in Cambridge University and a pilot plant located in an engineering facility in Luton.
The feedstock gets shredded and then transported to an oven that contains carbon materials. Two generators create microwaves that are channelled into the oven. Inside, the packaging materials enter into contact with the carbon.
As a result of the heat - between 400 and 500 degrees celsius - the plastics components of the packaging materials turn into gas (20%) and oil (80%). The oil that can be used as fuel to generate electricity or as feedstock for speciality chemicals.
The gas is either cooled and turned into oil or used in a generator that produces electricity to power the plant. The aluminium output is in the form of flakes (picture above). The process produces no other residues.