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The circular economy within Versalis: main initiatives

Versalis, the Eni chemical company that develops chemical intermediates and polymers using innovative technologies.

by Eni Staff
16 min read
by Eni Staff
16 min read

Versalis considers circularity to be a strategic driver applied to processes and products throughout their life cycle. The three pillars of the circular economy strategy are based on innovation and include:

  • polymer recycling through the development of innovative technologies implemented through internal research and partnerships;
  • eco-design to maximize resource efficiency at all stages of the life cycle and recyclability of products;
  • diversification of feedstock such as, among others, raw materials from renewable sources.

Polymer recycling

Versalis is committed to developing new and improved recycling technologies, also in partnership with the various players throughout the value chain.


HoopR, chemical recycling toward an infinitely recyclable plastic
HoopR, a circle as the symbol per excellence: this is the name of the Versalis project for the development of a new technology to chemically recycle plastic waste through a joint development agreement with the Italian engineering company Servizi di Ricerche e Sviluppo (S.R.S.), which owns a pyrolysis technology that will be further developed to transform mixed plastic waste that cannot be mechanically recycled into raw material to produce new virgin polymers. A virtuous process which aims to create a theoretically endless plastic recycling process, producing new virgin polymers suitable for all applications and that are identical to polymers that come from fossil raw materials.
Versalis has plans to build a first plant with a capacity of 6 thousand tonnes per year at the Mantua site, with a view to progressively scaling up, starting from its sites in Italy.

 

With Versalis Revive® new life for post-consumer plastic
Versalis Revive® is the first range of products with a different polymer base (styrene and polyethylene) containing post-consumer plastic, developed in Versalis research laboratories.

  • Versalis Revive® PE

From post-consumer municipal packaging recycling to new plastics for agriculture and new packaging
Versalis Revive® PE includes low and high-density polyethylene based compounds* containing up to 75% post-consumer plastic, mainly from recycled packaging. These products guarantee performance capable of meeting the needs of many applications, particularly in the agricultural sector for drip irrigation and in the packaging sector for small containers up to 5 litres, and are also suitable to cover film applications such as bags for industrial products or mineral water packaging.
These products have been developed in collaboration between the Versalis Research Centre in Mantua and Montello SpA, a leading European operator in plastic recovery and recycling technologies, where the range production takes place. Versalis Revive® PE will soon be expanded to include new products that research is developing.

  • Versalis Revive® EPS 

From post-consumer polystyrene, an expandable polystyrene with recycled content
At the Mantua plant, Versalis produces expandable polystyrene (EPS) containing recycled raw material supplied by the Italian separate domestic waste collection circuit, which includes polystyrene cups, trays and yoghurt cups. The project is carried out with the collaboration of Corepla (National Consortium for the Collection, Recycling and Recovery of Plastic Packaging) and the finished product can be transformed into the same applications as the virgin product: insulating panels for energy saving in construction or protective packaging of household appliances and furniture.

This project increases the circularity of the products allowing to drastically improve the recycling potential of styrenic polymer-based products. In addition, it gives new life to products that are important for our daily lives by converting them, after use, into durable goods.

  • Versalis Revive® PS 

Versalis: new compact polystyrene products with up to 75% recycled raw materials
Versalis has signed an agreement with Forever Plast SpA, a leading Italian company at European level in the recovery and recycling of post-consumer plastic, aimed at developing and marketing a new range of compact polystyrene products made from recycled packaging.

The new Versalis Revive® PS - Series Forever products, a compact polystyrene-based compound* containing up to 75% post-consumer polystyrene, provides performance which can meet the needs of multiple applications such as thermal insulation, non-food packaging and household items.
The recycled polystyrene used comes from separate domestic waste collection, such as yoghurt containers and disposable crockery that will be supplied by the COREPLA circuit, the National Consortium for the Collection, Recycling and Recovery of Plastic Packaging.
With the Versalis Revive® PS - Series Forever range, Versalis expands the portfolio of mechanical recycling products in addition to those based on expandable polystyrene (Versalis Revive® EPS) and polyethylene (Versalis Revive® PE) already on the market.
*compound: mixture between polymers and/or between polymers and additives that allows to obtain particular properties of the item produced.

The RiVending project, the daily routine that helps plastics recycling 
In synergy with the development of Versalis Revive® EPS, a dedicated collection of coffee cups and stirrers has been launched in the refreshment areas of the Eni buildings in San Donato Milanese. This collection, thanks to the collaboration of AMSA Municipal agency and the Corepla Consortium, allows the production of a selected secondary raw material, which contributes to feed the Versalis plant in Mantua for the production of expandable polystyrene for insulating sheets and protective packaging of household appliances and furniture. The RiVending project at Eni represents an example of a virtuous mechanical recycling chain and is also potentially scalable and exportable for many types of plastic products intended for short-term applications, thus configuring itself as a method destined in the future to provide interesting volumes of selected secondary raw material.

Versalis is also working with the various players in the supply chain with a view to eco-design to facilitate the products recyclability and affect the technological progress of secondary raw material suppliers in order to optimize treatments and thus improve the quality of recycled materials.

 

Platforms for chemistry from renewables

Through its Biotech business unit, Versalis continues its commitment to strengthening its competitive position in the renewable sources area, creating synergies between its research projects and developing integrated technology platforms in line with the development strategy pursued over the last few years.

In Piedmont, in Crescentino (Vercelli) there is the only Versalis site completely dedicated to chemistry from renewable sources, with the first plant in the world for the saccharification of lignocellulosic biomasses into second-generation sugars - based on Proesa® proprietary technology - as well as the Biotech Research Centres in Rivalta Scrivia (Alessandria) and Novara.

-      Invix™ Disinfectants 

The health emergency caused by Covid-19 led Versalis to offer its expertise and production facilities in Crescentino to produce a range of disinfectants, called Invix™, using ethanol from vegetable raw materials as active ingredient.

For this purpose, the production line of the Crescentino (Vercelli) plant has been converted and dedicated to this production.

The disinfectant, developed on the formulation of the World Health Organization and authorized by the Italian Ministry of Health, is a medical surgical device.

The product has an effective disinfectant power, thanks to alcohol and hydrogen peroxide, and emollient, due to the presence of glycerine. 

The range includes two products for hand disinfection: the gel, with cellulose-based thickener, without microplastics, and the liquid. The Invix™ range will soon be expanded with a liquid specific also for surfaces.

In Porto Torres (Sardinia), with the Matrìca Joint Venture, Versalis has created an innovative chemistry platform from renewable sources for the production of bio-intermediates for high value-added applications (e.g. paints and inks, bioplastics, bio-lubricants and bio herbicides), and in line with the circular economy model.

Another supply chain is the production of natural rubber and resins from the Guayule shrub, a native Mexican/Arizona desert plant, as a sustainable alternative to production from Hevea Brasiliensis. Versalis has signed an agreement with Bridgestone to create synergies and accelerate the development of the Guayule technology platform, using their pilot plant and farms in Arizona.

 

Eco-design

A partnership throughout the value chain, to close the loop for recyclable synthetic turf
The recyclable synthetic turf project was developed through a partnership between Versalis (supplier of the raw material, polyethylene) and two key players in the value chain: the Radici Group, a yarn manufacturer, and Safitex, a turf manufacturer (EcoNext). To date, synthetic turf is disposed of in landfills or incinerated once its life cycle is over. On the contrary, this innovative turf can be recycled and used in sectors that require high quality standards, for example in many sports applications (shin guards, elbow pads and bibs) and in the furniture sector (pots, accessories and garden equipment).
The project offers an alternative solution to end-of-life management of artificial turf, avoiding landfill or incineration and ensuring lower greenhouse gas emissions and a higher level of circularity.
The environmental footprint of this artificial turf has passed the assessment under the EU Product Environmental Footprint methodology (based on life cycle assessment) and verified by an independent certification body.

Bag to Bag: recycled industrial packaging for Versalis products
The project was developed with the aim of recovering and recycling polyethylene industrial packaging, such as sacks and liners, used to ship Versalis products packed on pallets and transported in vehicles/containers.
It consists of collecting used sacks and liners, which are recycled to produce secondary raw material suitable for making new packaging. The process results in a circular and efficient scheme called "Bag to Bag" and "Liner to Liner", in collaboration with supply chain operators. Adopting such a scheme saves resources, reduces the production of plastic waste and improves the sustainability of the supply chain.
Following the positive results of tests carried out on sacks containing 30% regenerated material, a test was started on products with 50% regenerated material (in February 2019). Currently for liners, the recycled content is up to 30%.

Extir® FL 3000, the flexible expanded polystyrene that reduces plastic leakage
Versalis has developed and launched an innovative expandable polystyrene (EPS) under the registered trademark Extir® FL 3000. This material offers industry an opportunity to increase the sustainability of products in the areas of food packaging, industrial packaging (for household appliances, furniture, automotive products), containers, protective helmets, seats. The optimal fusion level of the items produced with Extir® FL 3000 minimizes the creation of small fragments, thus reducing the risk of dispersion of plastic pellets in the environment. Extir® FL 3000 has mechanical properties that reduce its weight, in terms of eco-design and efficiency, and lends itself to the creation of packaging that is reusable or incorporates an increasing amount of recycled material. The low blowing agent content also reduces emissions and energy consumption during the transformation process. Finally, like all types of EPS produced by Versalis, Extir® FL 3000 is 100% recyclable. FL 3000 is suitable for food contact applications, does not contain bromine and can be produced with machinery normally used to produce EPS.

 

Other initiatives for plastics sustainability

The Circular Plastics Alliance and pledges for plastic recycling
Versalis has joined the Circular Plastics Alliance (CPA) to actively contribute to the ambitious European target of using 10 million tonnes of recycled plastic in new products by 2025. The Alliance, promoted by the European Commission, with numerous companies and associations across the value chain, aims to encourage plastics recycling in Europe and at the same time develop the market for secondary raw materials.
By joining CPA, Versalis has submitted its voluntary pledges in line with its circular economy strategy that is defined by three main pillars: eco-design, recycling technologies and diversification of feedstock.
With regard to eco-design, Versalis has committed to using at least half of its packaging, for transporting products on pallets and in containers, with up to 50% recycled material.
In the recycling and diversification of feedstock areas, Versalis has committed to increasing the production capacity of Versalis Revive®, its new line of polyethylene and polystyrene products, containing up to 70% mechanically recycled plastic. To boost the recovery and recycling of all types of plastics that cannot be mechanically treated, Versalis has pledged to develop a new chemical recycling technology to transform mixed plastic waste into raw material to manufacture new virgin polymers, identical to those originating from fossil sources and suitable for applications, including those that require high quality and performance, such as food packaging.
Versalis’ pledges also include assessments conducted by certified life cycle analysis (LCA) to prove the effective sustainability of all the initiatives undertaken, in addition to raising awareness of the responsible use of plastics in daily activities amongst its employees.

Operation Clean Sweep
Versalis is strongly committed to the implementation of the "Operation Clean Sweep", a voluntary international program planned to prevent and eliminate the loss of plastic granules in the environment along the entire value chain (manufacturers, processors, compounders, transporters, recyclers, etc.), a problem identified as one of the sources of marine plastic pollution.

Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW)
Versalis has joined the "Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW)", a non-profit organization that aims to invest $1.5 billion over 5 years to achieve concrete solutions to the problem of plastic waste and in particular marine litter.
The Alliance will promote projects and collaborations in four key areas:

  • Development of infrastructure to collect and manage waste and to increase recycling rates;
  • Support for innovation to propose and implement new technologies that facilitate the recycling and recovery of plastics, generating value from the plastic already used;
  • Training and involvement of governments, companies and communities to encourage the action of all stakeholders;
  • Cleaning up of areas with the highest concentration of plastic waste already present in the environment, with specific attention to the main dispersion channels, such as rivers that transport it to the sea.

 

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