Mura Technology has opened the world’s first commercial-scale HydroPRS advanced plastic recycling plant in Teesside, UK, which builds on 16 years of technology development by Australian company Licella into its Catalytic Hydrothermal Reactor (Cat-HTR) platform.
Licella executive chairman Len Humphreys and CEO Alan Nicholl congratulated Mura, and said that Licella is fast approaching an “inflection point” as it increasingly transitions from technology development to building its own commercial facilities, including an Australian-first facility under Advanced Recycling Victoria.
Mura’s facility opened last week with key representatives from the advanced recycling and plastic manufacturing value chains in attendance. The event marked the start of commissioning, with the first recycled hydrocarbon products expected to be delivered to Mura’s offtake partners in early 2024.
The purpose-built facility at the Wilton International industrial site will process flexible and rigid mixed plastics, including films, that are currently considered ‘unrecyclable’.
Mura says the HydroPRS process complements mechanical recycling and enables a circular plastics economy through the production of recycled plastic feedstock for the manufacture of new plastic.
The site has capacity to produce 20kt per annum of recycled liquid hydrocarbon products, with scope to expand production capacity to over three times this initial size. Located at Wilton International, Teesside, the site will provide up to 50 direct jobs, having created approximately 150 jobs during the build and commissioning phases, and approximately 100 further jobs within related infrastructure to support operations.
Dr Steve Mahon, Mura Technology’s CEO, described the first-of-its-kind, next generation recycling facility as a “groundbreaking achievement”, noting that it is the culmination of four years of dedication.
“Our HydroPRS process is unlocking a new market for plastic waste, creating value and keeping both plastic and carbon in circularity. The technology works alongside existing mechanical recycling to ensure no plastic types are considered ‘unrecyclable’ and require incineration or landfilling,” he said.
“With support from our partners, the Teesside site will be the first in Mura’s global roll-out, helping in the fight against the plastic pollution and global warming crises and acting as a launchpad for the 1,000,000 tonnes of annual recycling capacity that Mura plans to have in operation and development in this decade.”
Pioneered by Mura Technology, the HydroPRS process, unlike pyrolysis, utilises supercritical water (water under high pressure and high temperature) to convert post-consumer, multi layered, flexible and rigid plastics such as films, pots, tubs and trays, which are largely considered ‘unrecyclable’ through other methods, into high yields of stable, premium hydrocarbon feedstocks. Through this process, there is no limit to the number of times the same material can be recycled – meaning HydroPRS has the potential to significantly reduce single-use plastics and permanently increase material circularity in the plastics industry. By providing a route to recycling for these materials, Mura says it is creating a complementary process to sit alongside traditional mechanical recycling, as highlighted in a recent technical report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).
Use of plastic, particularly in single-use packaging, has overwhelmed recycling and waste systems globally. Recycling rates for plastic packaging vary globally, with the UK at 50% and the US at only 13%.
Independent Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) based on the first site at Teesside have shown the HydroPRS process provides an 80% carbon emissions saving by diverting ‘unrecyclable’ plastic away from incineration. According to Mura, when compared to fossil oil-based feedstock, HydroPRS produces products with an equivalent or lower Global Warming Potential and saves up to five barrels of oil for every tonne of plastic waste processed.
Mura has been supported by investment from blue-chip companies across the plastic recycling value chain, including KBR, Dow, CPChem, LG Chem and igus GmbH, alongside funding from UK Research & Innovation’s Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging Challenge and the Government’s Future Fund. These partnerships have enabled Mura to begin scaling worldwide, with plans in development for sites in the USA and at Dow’s Böhlen site in Germany. Alongside these investments, the company has secured partnerships with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, LG Chem and GS Caltex Corporation for the development of HydroPRS facilities under licence in Japan and South Korea.
"We commend our partner Mura on the commencing commissioning of its first advanced plastic recycling facility in the UK. It marks a turning point for the industry, which has up until now relied on pyrolysis, being the first full commercial scale plant to utilise hydrothermal liquefaction technology. This is a watershed moment for Licella on our 16 year technology development journey," Andrea Polson, marketing director at Licella, told PKN.
"In parallel, our joint venture with Canfor, Arbios Biotech, is advancing its first commercial scale Cat-HTR™ facility for biomass, which is due to be operational in the first half of 2024. These facilities transition our technology to commercially operational and as such, it is a milestone moment for the organisation."
Due to Mura’s UK plant entering the commissioning phase, Licella are currently waiting for the plant to be fully operational to absorb engineering learnings to optimise ARV’s Altona Plant.
In addition, the change in the feedstock and partnership landscape since late 2022 has resulted in ARV needing to bring in-house a plastic pre-processing solution. This has resulted in shifting focus to accelerate the development of this front-end processing plant as the first phase of the project.