Commercialization of a recycling technology for polyesters

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Eastman Chemical Company (NYSE:EMN), headquartered in Tennessee, recently announced its intention to pursue the launch of an innovative advanced circular recycling technology that uses polyester waste which cannot be recycled by current mechanical methods, and as a result, often ends up in landfills.

Using the process of methanolysis, Eastman’s advanced circular recycling technology breaks down polyester-based products into their polymer building blocks. These building blocks can then be reintroduced to the production of new polyester-based polymers, delivering a true circular solution.

Polyester is is a manmade polymer that is a plastic. Polyester fabric is a synthetic fabric woven with threads made from polyester fibers. Polyester fibers are the product of a chemical reaction between coal, petroleum, air, and water. Not only is polyester derived from non-renewable resources, but the process of extraction from fossil fuels yields a high carbon footprint and significant byproducts. Once it has reached the end of its product life and disposed of in a landfill, polyester fabric takes decades to break down.

Methanolysis is a chemical process in which the polyester waste is mixed with methanol under pressure and higher temperatures. The resulting chemical reaction results in high-quality polyesters.

Eastman was one of the pioneers in developing methanolysis technology at commercial scale and has more than three decades of expertise in this innovative recycling process. Eastman’s experience with methanolysis makes it uniquely qualified to be a leader in delivering this solution at commercial scale. Advanced circular recycling technology can be an especially impactful solution, as low-quality polyester waste that would typically be diverted to landfills can instead be recycled into high-quality polyesters suitable for use in a variety of end markets, including food contact applications.

“We recognize that plastic waste is a complex problem that needs advanced solutions. As we have engaged potential partners, it is clear there is high interest across the entire value chain,” said Mark Costa, Eastman’s Board Chair and Chief Executive Officer. “Our long history of technical expertise in chemical processes, including methanolysis, and our leading position in copolyester chemistry, enables us to provide this innovative solution to address the growing challenges of plastic waste in our environment.”

Eastman is currently executing an engineering feasibility study on the design and construction of a commercial scale methanolysis facility to meet the demands of our customers and has engaged in initial discussions with potential partners across the value chain on the development of such a facility. The goal is to be operating a full-scale, advanced circular recycling facility within 24 to 36 months.

Eastman is a global specialty materials company that produces a broad range of products. Eastman employs approximately 14,500 people around the world and serves customers in more than 100 countries. The company had 2018 revenues of approximately $10 billion and is headquartered in Kingsport, Tennessee, USA.