More drive for chemical recycling: Science, industry and NGOs come together for the first time to discuss new opportunities

Press release Fraunhofer /

Chemical recycling can be a key for CO2 reduction. Following the invitation of the Network for a Circular Carbon Economy NK2, more than 30 experts from science and industry came together in Freiberg for discussions about existing and future technological options, potential feedstock for chemical recycling and alternative technological routes as well as the contribution of chemical recycling to climate protection and a sustainable chemical industry.

The NK2 network was initiated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS in Halle (Saale) and the Institute of Energy Process Engineering and Chemical Engineering IEC at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg in January 2019. Chemical recycling is one of the key focuses of the networks activities.

In chemical recycling, carbon-containing waste can be converted back into raw materials or monomers via thermochemical processes (gasification and pyrolysis) or a solvent (solvolysis), from which new products can be subsequently generated. It represents a potential solution for problematic waste such as shredder fractions from the automotive sector or composite materials such as carbon or glass fiber reinforced plastics. Waste that cannot be mechanically recycled does not have to be incinerated or disposed in landfills. Instead, they are a valuable secondary carbon source for production, thus reducing the demand for fossil resources such as crude oil.

Numerous leading companies from the sectors energy, chemical production, waste management, recycling and plant engineering such as Air Liquide, ARVOS, BASF, COVESTRO, DOMO, Dow, Linde, LyondellBasell, RWE and ROMONTA join the NK2 network. For the first time, representatives from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the German Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (BUND), the European Climate Foundation (ECF), the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the German Nature Conservation Association (NABU) and Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) also participated in the meeting in Freiberg.

»We have a large number of key actors on board and wanted to use the opportunity to sensitize them to the possibilities of chemical recycling and the potential of the circular carbon economy« says Dr. Roh Pin Lee, the scientific coordinator of NK2 network. »The feedback from the participants showed that the meeting was successful. An objective discussion of the potential and limits of chemical recycling and obstacles to its implementation is only possible if there is an awareness of what is technologically feasible, and in taking the different motivations of diverse sectors into consideration.«

Additionally, the results of a survey on perception of chemical recycling with network members and relevant NGOs were presented for the first time. Furthermore, the workshop featured presentations focusing on current and future technological possibilities, criteria for chemical recycling, assessment methods for life cycle assessment in the chemical industry, relevant waste streams as well as an overview of current policy discussions on chemical recycling. Participants also had the opportunity to visit the laboratory and pilot plant facilities of the Institute of Energy Process Engineering and Chemical Engineering at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg and the Fraunhofer branch for Circular Carbon Technologies in Freiberg.

»Even if we focus only on plastic waste, there are many different ideas about what is chemical recycling and what it can do. We provided initial insights with our survey and the workshop discussion also provided more clarity to the issue. This is an important first step to support future exchanges and target collaboration« concluded Lee the workshop.