Enval said it had bagged further finance that would allow it to develop a new larger-scale plant to demonstrate the technology has sound commercial potential.
The UK-based company, a spin off from the University of Cambridge, is seeking to commercialise the patented know-how that it said offers a genuine recycling route for plastic/aluminium laminate packaging that has, to date, been unrecyclable.
It said the new plant should be brought into service by the middle of the year and reach commercial-scale output around 12 months later.
“This is a crucial step for us to show potential customers across the waste sector that our technology can work on a commercial scale,” Enval business development director David Boorman told FoodProductionDaily.com.
The feedstock would come initially from industrial waste generated throughout the packaging supply chain – from sources as varied as web laminate makers, packaging converters and even food manufacturers. The company will later look to source post-consumer waste.
Research from WRAP found that the UK produces 139,000 tons of packaging waste annually, with aluminium accounting for 13.5 tons.
Brand owner stake
Nestle and Kraft are both part of a wider consortium that will provide money to meet capital expenditure costs for the facility, with both companies highlighting the potential the technology has for improving the recyclability of flexible laminates.
The technique, nine years in development, is a continuous process that uses microwave-induced pyrolysis for the complete recycling of laminate waste, including the 100% recovery of its aluminium content.
The company envisaged that material recovering operators were potential customers for teh kit but that food brand owners also had a stake in seeing the technology succeed.
“I think part of the motivation for Kraft and Nestle has been to improve the environmental credentials of flexible pouches which they are using more and more,“ said Boorman.
He added that pouches have many benefits such as lightweighting, leading to savings in transport costs, but they are not currently recyclable – something brand owners are keen to see changed.
“Companies like Kraft and Nestle that increasingly use flexible pouches want to be able to put the ‘recyclable logo’ on the package as it reinforces their sustainability credentials,” said Boorman.
A separate application is the potential for the equipment to be used in aluminium recovery from cartons, although this capability does already exist. In 2010, Tetra Pak and Stora Enso unveiled a recovery plant in Barcelona with the capacity to process 30,000 tonnes of recycled cartons per year that extracts aluminium and turns the plastic into a gas that can be used to generate energy.
Boorman said their equipment could be installed next to a paper mill. Much of the paper used in cartons is virgin fibre and is recovered at paper mills through a de-pulping process. However, this leaves a plastic/aluminium residue that is currently disposed of to landfill or incinerated.
“Our equipment could be situated adjacent to the mill and be used to extract aluminium from this residue,” he said.