Polystyrene Chemical Recycling: Styrene Purification

From to-go containers to a fully closed loop

Chemical recycling is the process by which industrial chemicals (such as gasoline, batteries, and oil) are turned into new products. There are a few different ways in which chemical recycling occurs. For instance, a company can chemically enrich natural gas to release the energy within it onto the market instead of storing it up as a gas tank somewhere. Or a chemical company could split down into smaller chemical components to be used again for new products without adding harmful additives or preservatives.

There are two main components to chemical recycling: critical mass and process efficiency. Factors affecting critical mass include a product’s volume and density, its ability to be packaged with other materials for transportation and storage, and its toxicity level in ambient air. Process efficiency determines how well a product is processed during its lifetime, from initial isolation to final conversion as a new role product.

One exciting new development in chemical recycling is the potential to recycle Polystyrene (PS). This versatile plastic is used in a wide range of consumer goods, from packaging materials for food and beverage cans, to binding for books, newspaper boxes, and construction equipment. Polystyrene can be resistant to thermal degradation, is highly durable and resistant to physical shock; it can even be elasticized when pressed and is moldable under pressure. It is commonly used as a replacement or addition to natural or synthetic resins in ceramics, plastics, wood fiber articles and many applications. Despite its popularity and wide range of uses, the majority of Polystyrene is not recycled.

There are approximately 15 million tonnes of Polystyrene produced annually, which largely ends up in the landfill. Fortunately, there are novel chemical recycling processes that allow the depolymerization of Polystyrene back to its original form, Styrene, which is safe for use in contact with food.

Styrene is an excellent candidate for chemical processing because it is a renewable resource with low capital costs and has a high one-time capital cost for recycling. This Styrene can also be used to re-produce Polystyrene, creating a circular system and sustainable product. New recycling technology can also allow for Styrene purification which accommodates relaxed waste of Polystyrene quality and can remove co-boilers resulting from the depolymerization process.

Ultimately chemical recycling is the process of chemically transforming unwanted or broken chemicals into new ones. This process can be harnessed to create new products such as advanced plastics, fresh rubber products, or even new building materials.

The future of chemical recycling is exciting, and there is endless possibility for innovation.

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