Canada's Polystyvert building commercial EPS recycling plant
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Canada's Polystyvert building commercial EPS recycling plant

Jul 17, 2023

A Canadian company is spending millions to commercialize solvent-based expanded polystyrene recycling in the Montreal area.

Polystyvert Inc. expects to break ground this fall for a new C$40 million (US$30.2 million) project that will recycle 9,000 tons of both post-consumer and post-industrial EPS. Production is expected by the end of next year.

The company, CEO Nathalie Morin said, is particularly well equipped to manage a contaminated EPS recycling stream.

"The current state of polystyrene recycling is that there is quite a lot of mechanical recycling. They are doing a great job, but they cannot handle highly contaminated plastic," she said.

Polystyvert uses a pair of solvents, initially cymene and later heptane, to separate the good stuff from the bad while recycling EPS.

"It's a dissolution process. We take the PS and the contaminates and add a solvent, an essential oil-based product. That solvent will only dissolve the polystyrene so that polystyrene becomes a liquid. Everything else stays solid," she said.

This allows for the removal of contaminants through filtration and purification, Morin said.

"At the end, once all of the contaminants have been removed, we add another solvent, and that solvent will precipitate the polystyrene so the polystyrene comes back to a solid phase. And then you are left with the solvent and a paste of polystyrene, which we can separate. We recycle the solvent and form pellets of polystyrene."

Polystyvert has been operating a demonstration plant since 2018 that can produce 1,000 tons of recycled EPS per year, mostly for customers to use in production trials.

The new project will be located in the Montreal area, but the company is not revealing an exact location at this point.

The facility's annual capacity of 9,000 tons represents about 15 percent of all EPS buried in Quebec landfills each year, company spokeswoman Aurélie Bergeret said. Polystyvert's process also cuts greenhouse gas emissions by about 90 percent compared with virgin manufacturing, she said.

About 30 jobs will be created.

Polystyvert is building the first commercial-scale recycling facility to prove and showcase the technology, but ultimately is counting on licensing, Morin said. The company currently is working on its first licensing deal to allow for the construction of a plant in Europe and said the technology is receiving significant interest from third parties. The CEO described licensing as a strategic move that will allow the process to expand globally.

"Our technology is ready for commercialization. The feedstock is there, so the contaminated plastic is available, and we have clients wanting to have more recycled product," she said.

Polystyvert expects to initially process more post-industrial material but expects the amount of post-consumer material to grow over time as people become aware of the facility.

Commercialization of the EPS recycling process is allowing the company to look beyond that material to another styrene. Polystyvert is now exploring adaptation of the company's technology to create an ABS recycling system.

"The other key element is the diversion with ABS. That's opening a brand-new market. ... Polystyrene is a commodity; ABS is a specialty. For us, it not only doubles the potential of the market, but brings a lot of new players in the electronics, cars and phones. So it's a huge milestone for the company. We're now mature enough with polystyrene so that we can diversify into ABS," Morin said.

The CEO described the recycling process "similar, but not quite the same." Polystyvert is spending $3 million on the ABS recycling pilot plant in Montreal, calling the move a significant step toward commercialization.

"We're able to develop the technology faster because of everything we learned with polystyrene. But it's still different enough that we're going to make sure to go step by step on the scaling up of the ABS technology," she said.

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