Clermont-Ferrand, France — Carbios has announced that it has taken a major step forward in the development of its enzymatic depolimerization process of polyesters rending it applicable to PET (polyethylene terephthalate), one of the most commonly used polymers. This process, property of Carbios, enabled for the first time the depolymerization of 100 percent amorphous PET based commercial products into its original monomers, TPA (terephthalic acid) and EG (ethylene glycol).
Applying this selective depolymerization to PET enables the regeneration of monomers while maintaining the same quality and physicochemical properties as their petroleum-based counterparts. After separation and purification, the monomers extracted from the enzymatic recycling process developed by Carbios could then be used for the synthesis of virgin PET, therefore avoiding any loss in value of the recycled material.
Widely used, but sensitively to recycle
The market of PET plastics, a fossil-based polyester commonly used in the industry, represented a world production of 21 million tons in 2014. With an annual growth rate of 4 to 5 percent, production could reach more than 26 million tons by 2020. This thermoplastic material is widely used for manufacturing plastic bottles (69 percent of PET plastics), films (14 percent) and packaging (10 percent) and in other applications. The exceptional properties of PET (flexibility, transparence, thermomechanical strength, lightness, durability) make it an outstanding material favored by most plastic bottles manufacturers. However, conventional technologies implemented to recycle PET waste are very sensitive to contamination by other polymers and impurities. On a practical level, this involves a sophisticated sorting and high costs for a limited recycling rate. In addition, current technologies are leading to the production of secondary products of lower quality. Moreover, complex waste material made out of several polymers including PET cannot be recycled by conventional processes.
An addition volume of 1.4 million tons
In Europe, demand for PET-based virgin plastics was estimated at 3.2 million tons in 2013, of which 1.8 million tons are recycled (57 percent). Applying Carbios‘ biorecycling process to PET would allow for treatment of 100 percent of PET waste, equal to an addition volume of 1.4 million tons in Europe which are presently left in landfills or incinerated instead of being recycled. By creating a true circular economy model, Carbios‘ biorecycling processes would prevent the emission of 4.6 million tons of CO2 equivalent (applied solely to the PET plastics in Europe), thus contributing actively to the European efforts to limit global warming to 2°C above the temperature of the preindustrial period. To this resource could be added PET fibers, for which the recycling rate is very limited today despite a production estimated at 43 million tons worldwide in 2014.
Carbios provides a concrete solution to address today’s industry issues by rending PET endlessly recyclable with no loss in value whether it is plastic or fiber material composed of PET. Moreover, the processes developed by Carbios use highly selective enzymes, eliminating the need for a sorting step and offering the prospect of a 100 percent recycling rate and the production of high performance plastics composed entirely of recycled PET. In addition, Carbios biorecycling is a low energy consumption process, ensuring long-term control of the energetic cost of the process.
A milestone towards a leading industrial technology
These results represent a major milestone in the future transition of Carbios processes from the status of disruptive innovation to a leading industrial technology. By lowering the environmental impact of plastic waste, Carbios technologies will be best placed to support the expected orientations of „the circular economy package“ that he European commission presented yeserday in Brussels.
„We are very proud of these results, which lend further credibility to the innovation strategy and collaborative model established within the framework of the ThanaplastTM project. These new progresses will enable us to pursue our efforts and undertake the development at the pilot scale of our PET recycling process and adapt this technology to the recycling of other plastic polymers. We are also conducting advanced discussions with many major players in the industry in order to quickly bring our innovation to an industrial level.“ stated Jean-Claude Lumaret, CEO of Carbios.