A cargo of liquid plastic waste has been processed back into raw high-end chemicals for reuse at Shell's Norco facility in St. Charles Parish — a first for the plant.
Shell Chemical LP, the Houston-based U.S. subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, used a process known as pyrolysis. The process takes liquid plastic waste feedstock and creates raw materials for new products using high temperatures to separate the materials.
It's a strategy to deal with "hard to recycle" plastic products and meet customer demand for "high quality and sustainable products," according to the company.
"We want to take waste plastics that are tough to recycle by traditional methods and turn them back into chemicals, creating a circle," Thomas Casparie, executive vice president of Shell's global chemicals business, said in a news release.
Shell plans to use the process for at least 1 million tons of plastic each year by 2025. By contrast, Shell Chemical produces about 10 million tons of chemicals each year across its plant footprint, which includes petrochemical facilities in Geismar and Deer Park, Texas.
Atlanta-based Nexus Fuels was contracted for the feedstock for the Norco pilot project, which processed a "small amount," Shell said.
Nexus Fuels has the capacity to produce 50 tons of liquid plastic waste each day at its facility and sold 75,000 gallons, or about 2,300 tons, of pyrolysis to global customers so far. Shell expects to ramp up production over the next year in Louisiana.
"Our plan is to build up volumes of pyrolysis liquid used in the Norco cracker over the next year," said Ray Fisher, spokesman for Shell.
The company did not increase overall production at the plant as a result of the pilot project, utilizing existing equipment for the process. Shell expects to "explore all options" to meet its goal in the next five years.
The effort is one goal of an industry group created in January known as the Alliance to End Plastic Waste. Founding member companies included Shell, BASF, Chevron Phillips Chemical Co., Dow, ExxonMobil, Formosa Plastics Corp. and Sasol, among others.
The process Shell is leveraging for the recycled plastic effort in Louisiana is similar to that other companies in Europe have done recently.
In December 2018, BASF began a similar process using plastic waste feedstock from Recenso GmbH in Germany for the first time. In late August, Dow Chemical inked a deal with Fuenix Ecogy Group to supply pyrolysis oil feedstock for new plastic at the company’s facilities in The Netherlands.
To date, ExxonMobil itself has not adopted pyrolysis for plastics waste recycling in Louisiana but the company expects to "continue to maintain its competitive position by analyzing various business opportunities," according to an emailed statement.