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Pyrowave's plastic depolymerization machines using microwaves

We take post-consumer plastic material and decompose them into their building blocks to make virgin-like plastics and close the loop

Photo of Jocelyn Doucet

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Pyrowave developped over the past 7 years the first commercial Catalytic Microwave Depolymerization (CMD) reactor that operates in small modules capable of processing around 800 tons/year of material. We have built 3 prototypes of our technology and we are now operating at commercial scale in our demonstration plant in Montreal, Canada. 

The vision of Pyrowave is to go where the waste is. Our modules will be localized near where the material is generated (like collection centeres, sorting facilities) to minimize transportation of light waste plastics. The modules convert the plastic into chemicals on-site with high yields and selectivities and those chemicals are used to make virgin-like plastics. The advantage is that our chemicals, although chemically identical to virgin chemicals, are obtained from recycled sources, and therefore have a significantly lower carbon footprint and lower impact on natural ressources.

Our technology is currently operating on polystyrene from post-consumer and post-industrial sources with yields ranging from 60% to 85% in styrene monomer depending on the level of contamination. The balance is mainly ethylbenzene which is also a valuable by-product to the polystyrene industry and therefore our output product has a very high commodity value on the market. The high yields and selectivities obtained towards styrene originates from our unique microwave applicator that targets very specifically the proper chemical bonds while cutting the polymer chains.

Our approach is inspired by Nature where complex structures are decomposed into their building blocks that are common denominators to photosynthesis processes. The free energy from the sun then provides the sufficient work needed to restructure those building blocks in new structure. Pyrowave uses electrical energy to decompose complex structures into blocks usable to make new products.

Idea Title

Machine that breaks plastic waste into products used to make new plastics again

Company / Organization Name

Pyrowave

Website

www.pyrowave.com http://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/pyrowave-plastics-depolymerization-technology-recognized/

Where are you / your team located?

Canada, Quebec, Montreal

How does this Idea redesign unrecyclable small format plastic items that often end up as waste?

Our technology can take post consumer material with a fairly large amount of contaminants including food, paper, glass and other types of plastics. It allows to be used directly off a sorting facility plant where material with small/big items would be fed directly into our machine and decomposed via our microwave process. The more concentrated is the stream in plastics the better the yields will be in valuable products.

Which use cases does your Idea apply to?

We can apply to all use cases as we are able to process mixed plastic material as well as laminates if it needs to. Our technology mainly decomposes the polymer material into either monomers or other chemicals like polyolefins that are later used in other polymer or packaging applications. If there are various types of plastics or food contamination or even presence of metal laminates, these compounds will either decompose (food, polymers) or recovered from the reactor solid streams (foils, etc)

In what geographical context or area does your Idea plan to operate / solve?

We are currently rolling out in North-America with a strong pull from the european market as well as our partners are international companies (Total, Ineos, Chevron-Phillips, Dow, Dart Containers).

How do you envision scaling up your Idea?

Our scaling will happen through deploying more units in the field. We are a distributed model company where machines will be deployed in various locations operating on specific feedstocks, Our go-to-market is to go in two steps: 1) on polystyrene rich segments from private operators and sorting plants, 2) deploy on mixed plastic streams (PS, HDPE, LDPE, PP) obtained from sorting facility which currently goes to landfill or energy valorization.

At what stage of development is your Idea?

  • Operating Concept / Startup: You have fulfilled the stages of testing, undertaken a full scale roll-out, and are currently operating this concept/idea as a business.

Please describe how becoming a Top Idea and working with the Think Beyond Plastics Accelerator Program will help to accelerate your solution.

To access material, we need to advocate for more curbside collection of material and convince governments to develop and implement programs to collect more plastic waste. By proving to the world that there is a technology that can process the collected material and turn it into commodities of high value usable to make new plastics or products, we have a strong case proving economical feasibility of circular economy to help gather additional stakeholders to the global effort.

Please describe from where your Idea emerged

Our team was involved alot in waste-to-energy in the past and we simply did not believe that this makes sense either from an energy perspective nor from a sustainability point. Also, we had multiple problems scaling up those processes in size because of technical limitations and also the yields were poor. We decided to move to a distributed approach which avoids those technical limitations and creates additional opportunities, like the use of microwave technology with high yields and quality.

Tell us about your work experience

Our CEO started several succesful companies, including engineering consulting, in the past and our team contains all entrepreneurial people. Our group has alot of business and engineering experience.

Please describe your legal and organizational structure

Our company is fully incorporated under the laws of Canada.

16 comments

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Spam
Photo of Brian Bauer
Team

Jocelyn Doucet Amazing project Jocelyn!

I work with a team (plasticbank.org) that is aiming to become the world's best market based solution to addressing ocean plastic pollution on a globally significant scale. We do this by working in underdeveloped economies where there are staggering amounts of mismanaged plastic waste and many who need fair income opportunities.
Here is a great video Shell just produced with us that highlights our work in Haiti: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RI5lmb3hygQ&t=74s

How we work is we connect plastic our recyclers collect into the supply chains of global brands. We have the capacity to collect huge amounts of waste plastic (we can fill multi-million pound orders). I would be curious to know if you think there might be some way The Plastic Bank could connect with Pyrowave to workout a win-win solution to turn plastic waste into something with value (like fuel)-especially if this occurred in Haiti or somewhere in the Coral Triangle. This is just a very informal request to see if you think it might be viable, if you do I can put you into contact with the founders of The Plastic Bank and you guys can more formally discuss potential opportunities. If that sounds interesting I sent you a LinkedIn connection request or you can message me at brian@plasticbank.org Cheers, Brian

Spam
Photo of JP De Mussy
Team

@Jocelyn Doucet, I am interested in how this idea works as a business. I am myself involved in up cycling of slag into green cement (Geopolymers). I recognise similar business model items, such as no Land Fill fees, etc... In particular I am curious to know what are your customers (besides Municipalities as mentioned in your website) and how easy is to bring them as partners. Regards, JP

Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

We can talk about it, but it is not easy to bring any forms of government as partners! They usually don't even understand their own regulations and by-laws under which they operate which limits their areas of implications.

Best in our case was to establish relationship with key private companies and then reachout to the government either for demonstration purpose to then bring a valid showcase to higher levels in the government.

What i experienced is that there is mainly alot of dragging individuals in the government structures that slow down innovation. If you are lucky, you'll find a champion that will help you through until you face a hard NO. Governments are not risk takers. Private companies neither, unless the risk they take offers an incredible payoff by solving a problem.

Spam
Photo of JP De Mussy
Team

When we are more advanced with our solution and approaching actual partners will take contact to exchange. I agree the key is to look for internal individuals that make things happen. Regards. JP

Spam
Photo of LOLIWARE EDIBLE BIOPLASTICS
Team

This is so exciting! Maybe you have already considered this, but do you have in mind to pitch this to municipalities as a potential income source? I could see the Pyrowave at home in universities and other large institutions as well, particularly with the amount of polystyrene-enrobed takeout I consumed as a student...

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

LOLIWARE EDIBLE BIOPLASTICS - I just want to say that the whole team here really appreciates all the insights and comments you have made on the posts in this challenge. It is really helping to drive the ideas and conversations forward.

Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

You are absolutely right, the major challenge that anybody here faces while dealing with plastic waste is sourcing of the material. This is why it is crucial that we all advocate for more government implication, and that includes municipalities, to support curbside collection that will enable the recovery of plastic material. Then, technologies like Pyrowave can be implemented in those local recycling hubs to process the plastic that cannot be recycled otherwise, which represents the majority of the plastics collected at this time.

We are strongly involved with municipalities in Canada and intend to start presenting more of our current large scale demonstration results with other municipalities in the USA and Europe. We want to be more present internationally presenting new technologies that can now offer a real path that can swing a low value plastic waste into a much larger commodity market by doing a simple microwave depolymerization.

In fact, the Ellen McArthur foundation already mentionned that Microwave Pyrolysis was a very promising avenue for depolymerization of plastics because it can be fully decoupled from fossil energy because it uses electricity. Their report mentionned that the main issue was the stage of the development of this technology. We now can prove that this technology is at commercial scale and will start deploying in the coming years.

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

long term, my goal in the coffee trade is to eventually be able to pay delivery "milkmen" or sponsor events (or even work with local municipalities in "community service" that can collect mixed plastics and bring to a central recyclerly armed with things like Pyrowave to reduce the amount of just random crap that's out there.

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

that's brilliant insight loliware, we can greatly reduce styrofoam use by reducing student populations who depend on takeout, lol Thanks for keeping it human have enjoyed your comments to.

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

Very cool!
a) how would this work with mylar and polypropelene with inks (e.g. Tyvek printed mailing envelope),
b) what happens to the plastic integrity over time (normally polymers tend to weaken),
c) what does a mixed plastic stream output?

Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

Polypropylene works fine and the output product is mainly polyolefin products (a wax) that can be used for coating in paper packagings.

Regarding the plastic integrity, i mean our technology breaks-down the plastic into a new chemical. This new chemical will be used to make either new plastics or coatings. The new plastics will be identical to the virgin-like, therefore they will have the same integrity properties.

Mixed stream plastics fed to the machine will decompose in multiple products in proportions to the composition in the feed. SO for example if you have 50% polystyrene and 50% polypropylene, you will expect 50% of the output will be the output from pure polystyrene and 50% will be the output you would get from pure polypropylene. It is a linear relationship between the input and the output compositions.

Hope this helps!

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

Cool, thanks for the helpful reply. I'm kinda curious if say we wanted to create floating drone barges in the sea to gulp up plastics like a whale, if your approach could be used to convert to fuel to power the rig. Whose only point in life is to remove plastic and keep going.

Spam
Photo of Jocelyn Doucet
Team

That is a possibility. The primary objective of Pyrowave is really to close the loop and therefore we emphasize on re-using the output products like the monomers to make virgin products. Alternatively someone could burn that liquid as it contains also a high calorific value and power up an engine. If the primary objective in this case would be to remove plastics from the ocean and use the energy from it to power the engine, that could work but obviously the impact would be reduced as opposed to using the chemicals to make new polymers and products.

Spam
Photo of Troy Gardner
Team

totally understand the primary use case, and maybe at some point I'll better understand how to reintegrate the monomers back into the central loop, I think with a single material that's a standard thermoplastic it's not necessary for a full cracking like this for remaking, just shred and sterlize, then reform.

For a sea going drone, it could be mixed use. The primary goal for me there is to reduce the size of the problem...which can and is entering the food supply "As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms that reside near the ocean's surface. In this way, plastic may become concentrated in neuston, thereby entering the food chain."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Pacific_garbage_patch
You might want to reach out to these people https://www.theoceancleanup.com/technology/

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Jocelyn!

Interesting work you are doing!

Are there certain requirements for the plastic feedback e.g. purity and so on?

What is the biggest cost in the process (e.g. energy consumption etc.)?

Of the use cases for this challenge -https://d3gxp3iknbs7bs.cloudfront.net/attachments/d7cfea9d-b5a2-4ce3-a8de-3e518a3c4b67.pdf - which would be the best material for Pyrowave or is most in line with your current plastic feedstock?

Do you have any existing barriers to developing your idea that you’d like to share to help the OpenIDEO community understand where they might join the conversation and provide feedback?

Can you explain a bit more about how this idea can be implemented at scale? What would need to happen for this design to be brought to market at the global scale? What would it take for this idea to integrate at the scale of implementation you are aiming for?

It might be worth you including links to newspaper articles e.g. http://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/pyrowave-plastics-depolymerization-technology-recognized/

Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Pyrowave might interest Alden Contreras who posted the idea Degradable Biopolymer Enhanced Manufacturing