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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
06 February 2020
14 min read
byEni Staff
06 February 2020
14 min read

The three pillars of the circular economy strategy are founded on innovation and include:

  • polymer recycling by developing innovative technologies through internal research and partnerships
  • eco-design to maximize the resource efficiency of products at all stages of their life cycle
  • alternative feedstock including, among others, raw materials from renewable sources

 

Polymer recycling

Versalis is committed to developing new and improved recycling technologies, including in partnerships with various players along the value chain. 


Hoop™, chemical recycling toward an infinitely recyclable plastic

Hoop™, perfectly symbolised by the shape of a circle, is a project launched by Versalis to develop new technology for chemically recycling plastic waste through a joint agreement with the Italian engineering company Servizi di Ricerche e Sviluppo (SRS), 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 identical to polymers from fossil raw materials.
Versalis has plans to build a first plant with a capacity of 6,000 tonnes per year at its Mantua site, with a view to progressively scaling up, starting from its sites in Italy. 

New life for recycled plastics with Versalis Revive®
Versalis Revive® is the first range of products based on different polymers, including polyethylene and polystyrene, containing recycled plastic, and developed at the Versalis research laboratories. 

  • Versalis Revive® PE

From post-consumer urban 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 performances that meet the requirements of many applications, particularly in the agricultural sector, for drip irrigation, and in the packaging sector, for small containers of up to 5 litres, and are also suitable as film for sacks for industrial products or mineral water packaging.
These products have been developed through a collaboration between the Versalis Research Centre in Mantua and Montello S.p.A., a leading plastic recovery and recycling technologies operator in Europe, where the product is manufactured. Versalis Revive® PE will soon expand further to include new products that are currently undergoing development.

  • Versalis Revive® EPS 

An expandable polystyrene with recycled content from post-consumer polystyrene
At the Mantua plant, Versalis manufactures expandable polystyrene (EPS) made of recycled raw materials, from separated domestic plastic collected in Italy, including polystyrene cups, trays and yoghurt pots. The project is being carried out in collaboration with Corepla (National Consortium for the Collection and Recycling of Plastic Packages) and the finished product can fulfil the same uses as virgin polystyrene, as insulating panels to save energy in buildings, or as protective packaging for household appliances and furniture.
This project increases the circularity of the products and makes it possible to dramatically improve the recycling potential of styrene 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.

The RiVending project, the daily habits that help recycle plastic
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 the municipal rubbish service and Corepla, allows for production of a selected secondary raw material, which helps to feed the Versalis plant in Mantua to produce expandable polystyrene for insulating panels and protective packaging for household appliances and furniture. The RiVending project at Eni is an example of a virtuous value chain of mechanical recycling and is also potentially scalable and exportable for many types of plastic products for short term applications, thus becoming a model that is bound to provide interesting volumes of selected secondary raw materials in the future.
Versalis is also working with the various players in the supply chain in terms of eco-design to facilitate the recyclability of products and impact on the technological progress of suppliers of secondary raw material in order to optimize processes and thus improve the quality of recycled materials.

 

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.

 

Platforms for chemistry from renewables

Through its new Biotech business unit, Versalis keeps up its commitment to strengthening its competitive position in the renewables market, creating synergies between its research projects and developing integrated technology platforms in line with the development strategy pursued over the last few years.
In Crescentino (near Vercelli, Italy), Versalis is progressing in restarting production of bioethanol from second-generation sugars, using a system for total recycling of process water and making the site completely independent from an energy point of view, by using lignin, the part of the biomass not intended for the production of second-generation sugars, at the thermoelectric power plant. Furthermore, the supply of the required raw material (residual biomass not in competition with the food supply chain) is also mainly derived from a short supply chain, i.e. from suppliers within a radius of 70 km, and from waste from the wood industries. The production process at Crescentino is based on Proesa® technology for the conversion of biomass into second-generation sugars. With the research and know-how developed by Versalis, this technology will make it possible to pursue further developments in the production of a complete range of renewable products, via fermentation, such as bio-oils for biorefinery, PHA polymers, intermediates for bio-polymers and bio-chemicals.

Another production chain includes natural rubber and resins from the guayule shrub, a plant native to the deserts of Mexico and Arizona, 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.

In Porto Torres (Sardinia), through the Matrìca joint venture, Versalis has created an innovative chemical platform for production of bio-intermediates from renewable sources, to be used for applications of high added value (e.g. paints and inks, bioplastics, biolubricants and bioherbicides) in line with the circular economy model.

 

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 EU target of using 10 million tonnes of recycled plastic in new products by 2025. The Alliance, promoted by the European Commission, aims, alongside numerous companies and associations along the value chain, 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 alternative feedstocks.
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% of recycled material.
In the recycling and diversification of feedstock areas, Versalis has committed to increasing the production capacity Versalis Revive®, its new line of polyethylene and polystyrene products, to contain up to 70% of 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 firmly committed to the implementation of Operation Clean Sweep, a voluntary international programme designed to prevent and eliminate the dispersion of plastic granules in the environment throughout the 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 recently joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), a non-profit organisation that aims to invest $1.5 billion over five years to achieve concrete solutions to the problem of plastic waste and in particular litter at sea.
The Alliance will promote projects and collaborations in four key areas: 

  • Development of infrastructures 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 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.