1. the ARCUS company and technology

  • The objective and company philosophy today is to recycle non-recyclable, contaminated plastic waste destined for incineration without secondary sorting or washing, thus making a significant contribution to closing the carbon and plastic cycle and conserving resources.
  • ARCUS was founded in 2015 and has since steadily evolved from a greentech start-up to a scale-up and is now on the cusp of rolling out its proprietary technology
  • Our technology belongs to the group of chemical recycling processes and is based on the basic principle of pyrolysis - i.e. a process under exclusion of oxygen and high temperatures (approx. 500°C) to gasify plastics and recover a pyrolysis oil from it by means of condensation. These oils can be reused in the (petro)chemical industry as basic building blocks for plastics production or other high-value applications.
  • The ARCUS process is fully electrified and can therefore potentially (with the necessary infrastructure for competitive green power) be operated in a CO2 neutral manner.
  • Chemical recycling is currently discussed in the public in partly contradictory ways
  • ARCUS has developed, had approved, built and commissioned the first chemical recycling plant of this kind in Germany in the industrial park in Frankfurt Höchst in order to be able to hold discussions far away from laboratory facilities and simple calculations. On the one hand, to obtain reliable figures and values for an industrial plant, and on the other hand, to offer companies whose products are incinerated at the end of their life cycle the opportunity to validate the recyclability of a plant on an industrial scale.
  • The plant and its products are fully licensed and have all the necessary certifications (BimSch, Entsorgungsfachbetrieb, REACH, ISCC+, RedCert2). Thus, the plant there is not an experimental facility, but can be fully used for industrial purposes.
  • The nominal capacity of the plant is 4000t/a and currently we are working on optimizing the process more and more.
  • First products (pyrolysis oils) have been successfully produced from plastic waste that cannot be mechanically recycled and delivered to our customers.
  • ARCUS focuses on genuine mixed plastic waste currently destined for incineration. We assume that both sorting and mechanical recycling will become better and better in the future, and that ARCUS will thus focus on increasingly difficult material streams, as we are also increasingly focusing on very durable plastics that will be recycled in the coming years. Likewise, the large mass of plastic waste is not pure homogeneous fractions, but mixed and contains a wide variety of polymer types.
  • Our technology is robustly designed and built to handle different polymer types >5% (e.g. PVC, PET, ABS, SAN and others). Of course, even ARCUS cannot recycle "everything", as there are technical and especially economic limits to what is feasible. Here ARCUS has a wide range of possibilities, which we are happy to discuss individually with our customers and partners in a direct exchange.
  • In addition, ARCUS technology can recycle not only packaging but basically any form of plastic. Whether 2D material (e.g. films), 3D material, colored, black, colorless, mixed with additives, etc. is almost irrelevant.

2. Circular economy plastics

  • The linear economy based on the use of fossil resources and the consumption and use of goods is not sustainable. The fossil age pollutes the climate, breaks planetary boundaries and endangers the earth's ecosystem as well as the livelihood of humans, animals and plants. Goods that are not recycled lose their value as valuable materials for new applications. Far too often, they end up in landfills or even in the environment for this reason as well, further polluting it.
  • A sustainable circular economy, saving carbon in a growing population, is the only sustainable way for any industry to operate and the basis of a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy - so too for the plastics industry.
  • Current studies point to the considerable greenhouse gas savings potential of recycling plastics. What's more, recyclable materials, such as plastic waste, which are recycled as secondary raw materials, do not end up in the environment. Therefore, a circular economy of plastics contributes to solving the plastic waste problem.
  • Extending the recycling loop & recycling: At the end of the day, the question is: What happens to the last recyclate? If the circular economy and thus the sustainable safeguarding of carbon are to be taken seriously, the recycling of all applications made of plastics must be maximized in a technology-open manner and designed according to eco-efficiency criteria. To do this, waste must be 1) minimized (Reduce), 2) products reused (Reuse), and at the end of the use phase 3) mechanically and chemically recycled (Recycle). In a functioning circular economy, there is no "waste," but recyclable materials that can be recycled again and again, thus reducing resource consumption and protecting the climate. Recycling processes should be considered complementary and as a cascade to maximize their impact.
  • Product design: For closed-loop recycling, it is also important to design products in a way that makes them more recyclable. In addition, the aim is not only for products to be recycled to a large extent, but also for as many recyclates as possible to be used in new products.
  • Scope of recycled plastics: To achieve an efficient plastic cycle, not only the initial product design should play a role, but also the recyclability of the products made from recyclates. Recyclates used in applications that are themselves not recyclable only extend the linear chain without creating a cycle. Likewise, recyclates should be returned primarily to high-value applications that maximize the value of the overall cycle. Therefore, the question always remains: What happens to the last recyclate?
  • Remaining demand for fossil virgin material: Since a 100 percent recycling rate is not possible in purely physical terms, new plastics must be added to the cycle even with the most innovative recycling. It is important that these are made from non-fossil raw material bases, enabling a fully closed loop economy that also makes us independent of raw materials in geopolitically uncertain times. Two feedstock bases can be considered to close the gap: 1) renewable feedstocks certified as sustainable and 2) the use of CO2 via carbon capture and utilization (CCU) from fossil, biogenic and other (e.g., cement production, waste incineration) point sources such as industrial plants, as well as from the atmosphere, combined with hydrogen produced in a climate-neutral manner.
  • In Germany, 6.28 million t of plastic waste were generated in 2019. Of this, 3.31 million t (52.8%) was thermo-energetically recycled, i.e. incinerated by waste-to-energy or as substitute fuel (especially in cement plants). 2.93 million t (46.6%) were recycled mechanically. At 0.04 million t (0.6%), landfilling of plastics no longer plays a role in Germany. A total of 1.95 million t of recycled plastics were used in 14.23 million t of plastic
    virgin material. This corresponds to a recyclate use of approx. 13.7%.
  • Regulatory targets have been introduced to increase the use of recyclates. According to the specifications of the current European Packaging Directive, a mandatory packaging-related recycling quota (open to technology) of 55 mass percent applies for 2030. New recycling targets are expected with upcoming European legislative initiatives.
  • In addition, the EU Commission has set a target of ten million tons of recycled material being used in virgin material by 2025

3. Benefit from chemical recycling

  • Currently, only just under half of all plastic waste in Germany is recycled (in Europe it is significantly less). Better waste collection and separation can increase the recycling rate. In addition, smart product design can increase recyclability. And ultimately, innovations in mechanical recycling that recycle more and better than before will also positively influence the recycling rate. All paths to more recycling and circularity are important.
  • But, the above measures will not be enough; we need a broader portfolio of solutions with many existing and new technologies for a wide range of applications. Certain applications require (and will continue to require) composites that cannot be mechanically recycled and are used, for example, in wind turbines, e-cars, smart devices and medicine. Even products that have to meet the strict requirements of food legislation are not always and completely recycled at present. And even the excellently recyclable PET bottle can often be recycled but not endlessly. This is because plastic is made up of very long chains, and each time these are processed, the chains break, causing the plastic to deteriorate. So there is a limited number of recycling processes that plastic can go through.
  • In a circular economy with plastics, it is important not to banish any of the applications mentioned and to use all possible options for recycling. This also includes chemical recycling technologies, which in themselves are a collection of the most diverse technologies with different focus areas. This is also shown by a recent JRC Technical Report of the European Commission, which compares the different recycling processes with incineration and comes to the conclusion that any kind of recycling is preferable to incineration(among other things with regard to climate protection, defossilization and resource efficiency).
  • Material streams that have a high purity should and will always be recycled and kept in circulation by mechanical recycling processes from an ecological and economic point of view.
  • Moreover, the end products of mechanical and chemical recycling processes serve different markets and thus do not compete there either.
  • Rather, the two technology areas should be understood as cascades and complementaries that can collaboratively maximize recycling rates and the amount of recyclates in virgin material through a holistic approach.
  • The pure process of breaking down the molecular chains in chemical recycling is no more energy intensive than established mechanical recycling methods. However, further processing of the decomposition products into new plastic granules requires further energy, so that the total energy requirement for chemical processes may actually be greater than for mechanical recycling.
  • However, it must be noted here that the ARCUS technology is fully electrified and thus represents a CO2-neutral process given sufficient available and competitive "green electricity". The same applies in the medium to long term to the downstream processes mentioned above, which can and will also significantly reduce their CO2 footprint through electrification and sustainable power generation.
  • However, it is also clear that we have the task of decoupling the production of plastics from a continuation of the use of fossil resources. In other words, to de-fossilize the industry, chemical recycling processes that complement mechanical recycling are necessary. This is because it will allow more waste streams to be captured by recycling and enable the use of recyclates on a large scale in all plastics applications, returning to the cycle the carbon previously destroyed in waste incineration and released into the atmosphere to make new products for a growing population.
  • ARCUS internal data, as well as scientific studies (e.g. by the renowned Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)) repeatedly show that the energy consumption of waste pyrolysis, which is also used in ARCUS technology, is comparable to mechanical recycling. Approximately 5-10 percent of the calorific value of the feedstock in pyrolysis is required for the energy demand of the process.
  • As the above-mentioned JRC Technical Report of the European Commission shows, if mechanical recycling is not possible, even a higher energy input for chemical recycling is the better option for resource conservation, energy efficiency and climate protection compared to incineration.
  • Current research and ARCUS internal experience for pyrolytic processes (see KIT study) show that carbon recovery in chemical recycling is between 50 and 80 percent, depending on the type of waste (see below). In comparison, waste incineration currently allows an energy recovery of 30 percent, but carbon is emitted asCO2 and not recycled.
  • From ARCUS' point of view, the measured value "yield" is basically problematic, since this value depends very much on the waste stream used. Relatively "pure" (i.e. polyolefinic waste streams) will produce very high yields. However, these waste streams are not available in unlimited quantities.
  • In addition, when considering waste streams, often only the polymer components and "interfering substances" in the form of PPK, organics, metals and the like are considered. In most cases, substances contained in the polymer (colors, flame retardants, additives, etc.) are ignored. These substances potentially reduce the yield because they are not carbon-based. Therefore, "yield" is a very difficult value to interpret and should always be questioned.
  • In the course of the approvals (especially in Germany), all environmental impacts are checked down to the last detail. ARCUS has received a full BImSch permit and is subject to strict requirements and regular controls with regard to process safety, immission values, product quality and other legal framework conditions, which ensure that the ARCUS process does not pose a risk to people or the environment.
  • In addition, we continuously check the quality of our outputs to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the wider value chain (and ultimately the end consumer). In the case of a REACH approval of the product, a comprehensive human and ecotoxicity test is also carried out and "certified" within the framework of the European ECHA guidelines.
  • Likewise, the often mentioned dioxins and furans are not detectable at any point during the ARCUS process and are controlled with great care.

4. Mass balancing

  • Chemical recycling is currently at the beginning of scaling and the share of raw material supply from chemical recycling is still small. In large production plants, these recycled secondary raw materials are therefore used together with fossil raw materials.
  • In order to nevertheless be able to allocate the chemically recycled raw materials to a product in a transparent manner that can be verified by third parties according to specified rules, mass balance processes are required that are capable of linking a product to raw materials. This attribution capability is important to meet regulatory targets for the recycled content of plastic products and the demand for products based on recycled raw materials. Mass balance processes provide transparency and efficiency in the use of secondary raw materials and are thus a basis for more recycling and more circular economy.
  • Mass balances are not new. They are standardized (ISO 22095) and are already routinely applied today - for example in fair trade for coffee and textiles, in the use of renewable raw materials and in the purchase of green electricity. They work, increase transparency and are thus an important building block for more recycling and for a circular economy with plastics.
  • In order to make their planned investments in the EU, companies are dependent on their chemically recycled plastic quantities being recognized as recyclates in a traceable and auditable manner - thus creating sufficient investment security.