Giving plastic waste a new life
People all over the world are throwing out large quantities of plastic each year, representing a huge sustainability issue.
Over the past year, the Swedish green tech company has been working closely with EIT Climate-KIC and the City of Copenhagen to carry out a feasibility study on the conversion of plastic waste to new sustainable oil. Since being established in 2012, SWESTEP has been developing an industrial process capable of turning all hydrocarbon-based waste and residues, such as plastic, into renewable fractions. In practical terms, this means that any organic waste stream can be considered as a feedstock, and duly be transformed into a wide range of renewable fuels or useful sustainable liquids and materials to be used again.
In theory, this process could have huge implications for how we deal with plastics, as well as waste management in general, as it could lead to the establishment of major circular economy loops into a city’s ecosystem, provide new sources of renewable energy, and create new revenues and jobs—effectively converting what was previously considered waste into a resource. One key aspect of SWESTEP’s technology is that the feedstock doesn’t require separating prior to processing, meaning mixed waste streams are just as effectively processed as sorted ones. This contrasts wildly with the status quo, in which mixed waste streams require appropriately sorting before the separate elements can be recycled.
Creating industrial inputs from waste plastic for industries that typically require fossil-based fuels or petrochemicals for major parts of their operations doesn’t just represent a welcome remedy to the problem of municipal waste, it also embodies potential to reduce the consumption of fossil-fuels and thus, contributes to climate change mitigation.
Given what was on offer, it’s easy to understand why Copenhagen was interested in a potential collaboration. Per Boesgaard, coordinator of the city’s Climate Plan 2025, had this to say:
‘Waste management, and particularly plastic waste management, has represented a huge problem for the city for a long time. Plastic is now a large part of people’s daily lives, yet it represents a huge environmental problem with regards to both the consequences of its disposal and its carbon footprint.
Our challenge [as the City of Copenhagen] is to manage this problem holistically, which means solving the environmental issues without disrupting the day-to-day of our citizens. Thus, participating in projects such as this and collaborating with pioneering companies like SWESTEP to investigate the potential of their technology is both necessary and exciting for us as a city. We are very pleased with the outcome of this project and look forward to working more with SWESTEP and Climate-KIC in the future.’
In July 2016, the City of Copenhagen, SWESTEP, NISA, Copenhagen Airports, and other partners, took part in “Trash to Cash” an EIT Climate-KIC Pathfinder project aiming to confirm if their “turnkey technology” can make a positive impact to the city’s plastic waste challenge. After testing the process on a batch composed of plastic and biomass, the feasibility study confirmed that both the feedstock, the technology, and the process were viable. Karl-Magnus, CEO of SWESTEP, had this to say about the process:
‘I am delighted with the results because we can now show that SWESTEP can use our process to recycle a mixed organic MSW feedstock that includes plastics. We already are planning for further tests on other special feedstocks to evaluate their economic potential.
The outputs of the process can be used as an environmentally sound substitute for fossil fuels and thus, the municipality waste can end up being recycled into a whole range of things, such as new textiles, new plastics, medicines, renewable diesel, and jet-fuel. I am also proud that we have proved we can make a difference in waste management processes whilst also being an asset to the energy sector. Through our process, we can create new jobs, new industries, and new revenue streams for the city municipalities—all in an environmentally and climate-friendly way.’
Martin Poesgaard, Director of NISA, the Nordic Initiative for Sustainable Aviation is optimistic about the process: ‘With the results of this feasibility study we can see that it is possible to convert the waste plastic residues to a new oil. We [at NISA] find it quite remarkable as it occurs at relatively low temperature and without pressure setting. Our hope is that the oil produced can be further processed into a sustainable jet fuel as if possible, this could represent a major breakthrough in our efforts to make the aviation industry more sustainable.’
SWESTEP will now proceed with additional documentation and analysis of the technology and the end products. Now, the goal is to find industrial partners and investors as well as involvement from the public and the government. SWESTEP is very optimistic about this and sees the solution as an important and low-cost contribution to the circular economy and environmental improvements.