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Firms collaborate on plastic sorting facility in Houston

Cyclyx, ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell plan to use the new facility to produce feedstock for mechanical and advanced recycling projects.

October 19, 2022

Cyclyx International, which describes itself as a consortium focused on discarded plastic innovations, headquartered in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, has partnered with Texas-based ExxonMobil and the Netherlands-based LyondellBasell to develop a plastic sorting and processing facility in the Houston area. The companies plan to call the facility the Cyclyx Circularity Center.

The facility measures roughly 600,000 square feet and will use near-infrared and optical sorting technologies to sort plastic scrap by polymer type.

For the new facility, Cyclyx will source a combination of postconsumer, postcommercial and postindustrial plastic scrap. The facility is designed to process all types of plastics and to produce up to 150,000 metric tons (or 330 million pounds) of plastic feedstock per year.

Joe Vaillancourt, CEO of Cyclyx, says the new facility is “more than” a plastic recycling facility (PRF). He says, “The [Cyclyx Circularity Center] is being designed to handle a much wider variety of plastics than is typically found at a traditional PRF. Cyclyx’s ability to overlay chemical characterization of postuse plastics to ensure product quality for both chemical and mechanical recycling is what sets this facility apart. The understanding of waste plastic chemistry will create a new set of recycling options for difficult-to-recycle waste plastics that today are sent to landfill.”

Vaillancourt says Cyclyx is leading the design engineering and project management of the facility as it is built. Once operational, Cyclyx will be responsible for sourcing plastic scrap and operating the facility to produce on-specification feedstock for both mechanical and advanced recycling. He adds that Cyclyx plans to leverage new technologies to analyze incoming plastics based on chemical composition as well as polymer type and will sort, mix and blend them according to customer specifications.

Vaillancourt says LyondellBasell and ExxonMobil will serve as primary off-takers of the mechanical and advanced recycling feedstocks.

According to a news release from LyondellBasell announcing the project, the facility addresses what LyondellBasell calls “a critical missing link in the plastic waste supply chain” by connecting community recycling programs to advanced recycling technologies that have the potential to take a much wider variety of plastic materials.

The Cyclyx Circularity Center will produce feedstock for both mechanical and advanced recycling. LyondellBasell says the facility will leverage technologies to analyze plastics based on their composition and sort them according to customer specifications for their highest and best reuse.

ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell will invest up to $100 million in the Cyclyx Circularity Center, contingent upon a final investment decision in early 2023. Feedstock from the facility will be used to supply ExxonMobil’s and LyondellBasell’s advanced recycling projects as well as mechanical recycling markets. The companies expect to begin operations at the facility in 2024.

“This project serves as proof of how significant the need is for custom-blended plastics feedstock,” Vaillancourt says. “With our capability to accept and process a wide range of waste plastics based on their chemistry profile which we custom blend to the needs of our customers, we are creating a new set of recycling options for difficult-to-recycle waste plastics that today are sent to landfill. Our circularity centers will allow us to make available a much larger amount of waste plastic into usable feedstock than has been possible with the current recycling infrastructure. Additional circularity centers are under consideration on the Gulf Coast and other locations.”

Cyclyx, ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell are members of the Houston Recycling Collaboration whose mission is to help the city of Houston significantly increase plastic recycling rates, leveraging new technologies and infrastructure, such as this Cyclyx facility, to recycle nearly all plastics.

ExxonMobil is expanding its ability to process plastic scrap. As of September, the company has processed more than 6,700 metric tons (or nearly 15 million pounds) of plastic scrap from its facility in Baytown, Texas, according to the report from LyondellBasell. That facility is expanding later this year to reach a capacity of up to 30,000 metric tons of plastic scrap per year. LyondellBasell says ExxonMobil is planning to build up to 500,000 metric tons (or 1 billion pounds) of advanced recycling capacity by the end of 2026 across all its sites globally.

“To help increase the overall U.S. recycling rate and meet growing customer demand for circular products, more investment is needed by governments and industry to collect and sort waste,” says Dave Andrew, vice president of new market development at ExxonMobil. He adds that the Cyclyx Circularity Center will help the company to accelerate its advanced recycling efforts in the region.