A New ‘Supercritical Water’ Approach to Recycling Plastic Packaging Waste

supercritical water technology

The University of Birmingham has licensed the rights to a ‘supercritical water’ technology to technology consultancy Stopford to develop a novel process for recycling mixed plastic packaging.

The approach was invented by Dr Bushra Al-Duri, from the University’s School of Chemical Engineering and further developed during a collaborative project with Stopford.

Above the critical point of 374.5oC and 220 bars (217 atmospheres), water is described as ‘supercritical’ where its properties and operational behaviour are completely different from ambient/hot water. Supercritical water can be a solvent for all organic materials, including plastics. Its gas-like penetration power makes it a superior medium to decompose mixtures of complex waste plastics into value-added materials, which are feedstock for manufacturing new plastics.

Stopford will now use its substantial technology innovation and engineering expertise to further develop and scale the novel hydro-thermal process called CircuPlast, enabling the conversion of non-recyclable end of life plastics into high-value chemicals for use as feedstock for the plastics industry.

Stopford’s Technology and Innovation Director Dr Ben Herbert said: “This agreement enables Stopford to fast-track the development of the CircuPlast technology to meet the plastics management and sustainability requirements of multiple industry sectors.”

David Coleman, CEO of University Birmingham Enterprise, added: “The growth of plastics production has long outstripped the capacity for recycling, with the UK alone producing over two million tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year, of which just over half is recycled.  We are delighted the university is working with Stopford to deliver a viable way of recycling much more plastic packaging that will help meet sustainability goals.”

CircuPlast will be an eco-friendly technology using ‘supercritical’ water rather than industrial solvents for the repurposing of waste plastics adopting a circular approach. The technology will provide a sustainable alternative to fossil oil-derived feedstocks with no CO2 emissions in the production or disposal phases.


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