Industry Case Study
Insights on companies on-the-ground
How Collaboration Can Catalyze the Commercialization of Molecular Recycling Technologies
In November 2021, Closed Loop Partners released its latest report on molecular recycling, Transitioning to a Circular System for Plastics: Assessing Molecular Recycling Technologies in the United States and Canada. As part of this study, our team released a series of case studies meant to highlight best practices and lessons learned from molecular recycling companies advancing these technologies on-the-ground.
Significant progress within the molecular recycling sector will require a high level of collaboration among technology companies and across the molecular recycling value chain
As the nascent molecular recycling sector continues to mature, increased collaborations and transparency across the sector are critical to expediting best-in-class performance of molecular recycling technologies that meet direct market needs. A non-competitive approach to developing processes and business models can better position all technologies, and the sector as a whole, laying the foundation for a more cohesive integration of molecular recycling technologies within the broader recycling system.
To successfully commercialize and de-risk technology processes for early-stage molecular recycling companies, a much higher degree of collaboration needs to exist, rather than the status quo.
How molecular recycling companies can strengthen collaboration across the sector:
- Partnering across the public and private sectors––including with universities and governments––to foster a collaborative approach and leverage the appropriate resources to develop and deploy technologies.
- Building strong relationships with current investors who are also industrial companies that have interest in the molecular recycling company. Engaging with commercial partners is important for technology development.
- Getting involved with the sector at large and recognizing the relevant legislative frameworks. Knowledge of and involvement with policy is important for new, disruptive innovations.
Gr3n, a molecular recycling company based in Lugano, Switzerland, produces, commercializes and maintains depolymerization plants. The company developed a proprietary technology––an innovative process that applies microwave technology to an alkaline hydrolysis, providing an economically viable recycling process of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) that can be implemented at an industrial level.
With the aim of getting to market quickly and strategically, the company used their resources and relationships to communicate transparently about their technology, providing relevant insights for other technology companies. They are one of the most forthcoming technology companies in the world, transparent both about their technology process, its environmental impact, and needs from stakeholders who want to see technologies like it scale. By working closely with key stakeholders across the value chain at every phase of development, the company has been able to identify areas of improvement to bring their technology to market.
Business Development and Certification: Founded and first lab tested in 2011, Gr3n has prioritized industry involvement, transparency and collaboration across the value chain throughout the development of its technology. In 2011, shortly after its founding, the company enrolled in the USI Start-Up Program, a service promoted by the Foundation for the Lugano Faculties of USI, in collaboration with USI and SUPSI. In 2014, Gr3n was awarded with a CTI label, which helps accelerate business development for emerging companies. To receive this label from the CTI Certification Board, Gr3n underwent a three-phase, firmly guided process with a dedicated expert to prepare the company for certification. Later that year, the company was selected as a European finalist of the Cleantech Open (CTO)’s annual business accelerator (1).
Industry Collaboration: In 2017, Gr3n joined DEMETO (Modular, scalable and high-performance DE-polymerization by MicrowavE TechnolOgy), a European project that received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program. The 13 partners in the consortium are based around Europe, representing the entire molecular recycling value chain––from research organizations, to molecular recycling technologies, recyclers, packaging textiles and PET producers (2). They are each leveraging their industry strengths and knowledge to collectively bring to market a new way to chemically recycle PET––invented by Gr3n. As the owners of the depolymerization technology utilized by DEMETO, Gr3n is the scientific core of the consortium.
Technology Development Process: Gr3n’s involvement in DEMETO was critical to its development process and market acceptance, especially for the implementation of its technology at an industrial level. The company formed relationships with the DEMETO advisory board and fellow consortium members––which includes policymakers, global brands and waste agencies––helping expedite its road to commercialization. Within the first 18 months of the DEMETO project, technical work was focused on designing a reactive unit, creating a purification process and optimizing microwave design. In 2018, Gr3n won the Innovation Radar Prize at the major ICT event in Vienna, Austria, organized by the European Commission (3).
Sector Advancement: In addition to DEMETO, in 2019 Gr3n was among the founders of Chemical Recycling Europe (ChemRecEurope), a group established with the goal of promoting and implementing molecular recycling solutions in Europe, to help reduce waste and close the loop for the plastics industry (4). Through ChemRecEurope, molecular recycling companies across the value chain are given a platform to coordinate amongst each other, and further develop the molecular recycling community in Europe. By joining key industry groups, Gr3n positions itself to form strategic partnerships that are key to its route to market.
Proof of Concept: Currently, Gr3n operates a research & development hub, where the company runs all refinements and iterations needed before upscaling the technology. The site has a fully equipped lab for testing and characterization, as well as a pilot plant, which can depolymerize and purify 10-kilogram batches. In 2021, as a product of the DEMETO project, Gr3n began construction of a demonstration plant located in Chieti, central Italy, which is part of the Parco Scientifico e Tecnologico d’Abruzzo. This demonstration plant is smaller than the commercial-sized 30,000 metric ton/year plant and provides the company the opportunity to showcase its process and test the operations of the plant (5).
Calls to Action
Molecular recycling companies need to strengthen multitudes of partnerships with a range of stakeholders, including universities, brands and policymakers. Strategic relationships and collaborations can help companies gain better visibility in the market, plugging them into relevant supply chains and positioning themselves for commercialization and scaling. At this point in the development of the molecular recycling sector, significant collaboration is needed to strengthen the industry as a whole, and more emerging molecular recycling companies must advance a collaborative, non-competitive approach to technology development.