Part of the problem with recycling plastics is that they have to be separated into different types as each type has different properties, meaning they can’t be recycled together.

Now, a team, led by Swindon-based specialist plastic recycling technology provider, Recycling Technologies and including the University of Bath's Centre for Sustainable Chemical Technologies, is developing a method of chemically breaking down mixtures of plastics into their constituent molecules which can then be used to manufacture new plastics or other high value products.

The company has announced it has completed the first phase of a project funded by the Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) from UK Research and Innovation to enhance the efficiency of its chemical recycling process by hydrogenating Plaxx?, a recycled feedstock which can be used to manufacture new plastic. The project also investigated automation of the recycling process.

The SBRI project funding allowed Recycling Technologies to collaborate with NiTech, a leading authority and expert on continuous processing, the Centre for Sustainable and Circular Technologies (CSCT) at the University of Bath and Optimal Industrial Automation, a leading specialist in the automation of manufacturing systems to optimise production processes.

The project examined the feasibility of incorporating NiTech’s Oscillating Baffle Reactor (OBR) into the existing elements within Recycling Technologies pyrolysis machine to enhance the quality of Plaxx? to steam-cracker ready feedstock, thus avoiding the need for pre-treatment in advance to the manufacture of new plastic.

The inclusion of Optimal Industrial Automation in the project has tested the feasibility of incorporating analytical technologies that enhance process efficiency and enable chemical recycling to move towards digital control of distributed units that can be deployed and utilised flexibly across the world.

Marvine Besong, Technical Director at Recycling Technologies, said: “Recycling Technologies is delighted to have received this grant from the Small Business Research Initiative to work with CSCT, NiTech and Optimal Industrial Automation. This project is a critical element of our desire to accelerate the evolution of plastic into a more sustainable material through innovation and technical excellence.”

At the University of Bath, Professor Matthew Davidson, Dr Alfred Hill, Dr Simon Freakley, Dr Ulrich Hintermair and Professor Marcelle McManus from the CSCT have all been involved in the project.

Matthew Davidson, Whorrod Professor of Sustainable Chemical Technologies and Director of the CSCT said: “We are delighted to have been be a key part of this exciting project working with a range of specialist companies on the problem of plastics sustainability.

“CSCT’s fundamental expertise in polymer science, catalysis, life-cycle assessment and reaction engineering has combined with the industrial expertise of Recycling Technologies, NiTech and Optimal to demonstrate the feasibility of sustainable chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste.

“We now look forward to working with this unique team to deliver a demonstrator which will help bring the concept to commercial reality.”