Chimica circolare

Versalis’ Strategic Guidelines for Circular Economy Development

Versalis considers circularity to be a strategic driver that is applied to processes and products throughout their life cycle.

by Eni Staff
23 min read
by Eni Staff
23 min read

The three pillars of circular economy development are based on innovation:

  • eco-design to maximise resource efficiency at all stages of the life cycle and product recyclability
  • polymer recycling through the development of innovative technologies from in-house research and innovation (R&I) and external partnerships
  • diversification of raw materials including, among others, those derived from renewable sources.

Eco-design

Bag to Bag: Recycled industrial packaging for Versalis products

The project was developed to help recover and recycle industrial polyethylene packaging, such as bags and liners, used for shipping Versalis products on pallets and in trucks/containers.

Bags and liners are collected and recycled to produce a secondary raw material that is suitable for making new packaging. It is a circular and efficient scheme called "Bag to Bag" and "Liner to Liner", and is carried out in collaboration with supply chain operators. Adopting the scheme leads to resource savings, less plastic waste and improved supply chain sustainability.

Bags now contain 50% reclaimed material and the recycled content for liners is up to 30%.

 

Extir® FL 3000, the flexible expanded polystyrene to reduce plastic leakage

Versalis has developed and launched an innovative grade of expandable polystyrene (EPS) under the registered trademark Extir® FL 3000. This material offers the industry an opportunity to increase the sustainability of food packaging, industrial packaging (for household appliances, furniture, automotive), containers, protective helmets and seats. The optimal fusion of items produced with Extir® FL 3000 minimises the creation of small fragments, reducing the risk of plastic granules leaking into the environment. Extir® FL 3000 has mechanical properties that reduce its weight in terms of eco-design and efficiency and is suitable for the production of reusable packaging or packaging that includes an increasing amount of recycled material. The reduced amount of blowing agent also reduces emissions and energy consumption during the conversion process. Like all types of EPS produced by Versalis, Extir® FL 3000 is 100% recyclable. FL 3000 is suitable for use in food packaging, does not contain bromine and can be produced with machinery that is usually used for EPS production.

 

Polymer recycling

Versalis is committed to the development of mechanical, physical and chemical recycling technologies for plastics and rubbers through internal research and in partnership with associationsand consortia.

Mechanical recycling is still the most common and widespread technology for recycling plastics, developed on an industrial scale and with an advantageous economic and energy impact.

For Versalis, this recycling method must be progressively integrated in a complementary way with other physical and chemical (or molecular) recycling technologies.

 

Hoop®, chemical recycling toward an infinitely recyclable plastic

Hoop®, 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 undertaken as a result of 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 theoretically endless virtuous 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 tons per year at the Mantua site, with a view to progressively scaling up, starting from its sites in Italy.

Versalis is committed to the development of mechanical, physical and chemical recycling technologies for plastics and rubbers through in-house research and in partnership with associations and consortia.

Mechanical recycling is still the most common and widespread technology for recycling plastics, it is developed on an industrial scale and has an advantageous economic and energy impact.

For Versalis, this recycling method must be progressively integrated with other physical and chemical (or molecular) recycling technologies in a complementary way.

 

Hoop®, chemical recycling to create infinitely recyclable plastic

Hoop®, the circle is the symbol of circularity: this is the name of the Versalis project for developing a new technology to chemically recycle plastic waste. It is the result of a co-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. It is a theoretically infinite plastic recycling process, which makes it possible to produce new virgin polymers that are suitable for all applications and have identical properties to those produced from fossil fuels. Versalis has plans to build a first plant with a capacity of 6 thousand tonnes per year in Mantua and scale up progressively, starting with its production sites in Italy. Versalis Revive® gives new life to recycled plastics. Versalis Revive® is the first range of products with a different polymer base (styrene and polyethylene) containing recycled plastics, it was developed in the Versalis research labs.

  • Versalis Revive® PE

 

From recycled post-consumer municipal packaging to new plastics for agriculture and new packaging

Versalis Revive® PE includes low- and high-density polyethylene-based compounds¹ containing up to 75% post-consumer plastics, mainly from recycled packaging. The performance of these products meets the needs of many applications, particularly in the agricultural sector for drip irrigation and in the packaging sector for containers of up to 5 litres. They are also suitable for film applications such as bags for industrial products or mineral water packaging.

These products were developed by the Versalis Research Centre in Mantua in collaboration with Montello SpA, Europe’s leading operator in plastic recovery and recycling technologies. Versalis Revive® PE will soon be expanded to include new products that the research team is developing.

  • Versalis Revive® EPS

 

Expandable polystyrene with recycled content from post-consumer polystyrene

At the Mantua plant, Versalis produces expandable polystyrene (EPS) containing up to 20% recycled plastic from polystyrene cups, trays and yoghurt cups supplied by the Italian household waste collection system. Corepla (the National Consortium for the Collection, Recycling and Recovery of Plastic Packaging) is a project partner and the finished product can be used for the same applications as the virgin product: insulating panels for energy saving in buildings or protective packaging for household appliances and furniture.

This project increases the circularity of products by drastically improving the recycling potential of styrenic polymer-based products. It also gives new life to everyday products by converting them into durable goods after use.

  • Versalis Revive® PS

 

New compact polystyrene products with up to 75% recycled raw material

Versalis signed an agreement with Forever Plast, an Italian company and European leader in the recovery and recycling of post-consumer plastics, to develop and market a new range of compact polystyrene products made from recycled packaging.

The new Versalis Revive® PS - Series Forever products are made from a compact polystyrene-based compound¹ containing up to 75% post-consumer polystyrene and can be used in 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 this in mind, the new Versalis Revive® PS Air F - Series Forever product was launched in April 2021: an innovative recyclable tray suitable for food and composed of recycled polystyrene developed by the companies that are members of Pro Food. The tray consists of an inner layer containing Versalis Revive® PS Air F - Series Forever and two outer layers made from virgin polystyrene. This structure, known as the A-B-A functional barrier, ensures food contact compliance. The functional barrier design and stringent testing were developed in collaboration with the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV), a leading German applied research institute that works with industries to develop viable technologies for bringing innovative products to the market.

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.

Note:

(1) 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

Alongside the development of Versalis Revive® EPS, an initiative has been launched to collect coffee cups and stirrers in the refreshment areas of the Eni buildings in San Donato Milanese. The project is carried out in collaboration with the AMSA Municipal Corporation and the Corepla Consortium. The waste is used to produce a selected secondary raw material, which is then used  to produce expandable polystyrene for insulating sheets and protective packaging for household appliances and furniture at the Mantua plant. Eni’s RiVending project is an example of a virtuous mechanical recycling chain and is potentially scalable and expandable for other plastic products with short-term applications, which means it could provide significant volumes of selected secondary raw material in the future.

Versalis is also working with different players across the supply chain on eco-design, to facilitate the recyclability of products and influence the technological progress of secondary raw material suppliers to optimise treatments and improve the quality of recycled materials.

 

Devulcanisation for recycling end-of-life tyres

Versalis and AGR, a Turin-based company that owns a technology for the devulcanisation² of post-consumer elastomers, signed an agreement in November 2020 to develop technological innovations and new recycled rubber products and applications. The aim is to pool their respective expertise to develop and market a new range of elastomer-based products from granulated rubber from post-consumer products, meeting the growing circular economy needs of manufacturers of tyres and other rubber products.

Versalis will make its research centre laboratories in Ravenna and Ferrara available, as well as the necessary equipment for the fine-tuning of specific applications, both in terms of formulation and technology. AGR will make its technological platform available at its plant in Cumiana (Turin). The initiative will be developed in collaboration with the EcoTyre Consortium, which manages a national network for the collection and processing of ELTs (End-of-Life Tyres) from which granulated rubber can be obtained.

With this new circular economy initiative, Versalis aims to expand the range of Versalis Revive® products made from recycled materials. This will include the elastomeric materials segment, where it is a leader in terms of technological know-how and applications.

Note:

(2) Devulcanization: the process of selectively breaking chemical bonds that transforms objects in solid rubber, usually granulated, into a workable and mouldable form, ready to be reused in the production of new products, such as tires or gaskets.

 

Diversification of raw materials

Alongside polymer recycling, Versalis is always looking for new opportunities to diversify the feedstock for products and/or packaging, by exploring the use of secondary raw materials.

Versalis is also committed to replacing the use of conventional resources with raw materials from renewable sources.

Versalis continues its efforts to strengthen its competitive position in renewable chemicals through its new Biotech business unit, by creating synergies between its research projects and developing integrated technology platforms in line with the development strategy pursued in recent years.

Versalis has obtained ISCC PLUS certification for monomers, intermediates, polymers and elastomers produced with sustainable raw materials, from bionaphtha and chemical recycling, at the Brindisi, Porto Marghera, Mantua, Ferrara and Ravenna plants.

This means that Versalis can supply the market with decarbonised and circular products, with a new "bio attributed" and "bio-circular attributed" range made from bionaphtha, and a "circular attributed" range where the raw material is a "recycled oil", a pyrolysis oil obtained from the chemical recycling process of mixed plastic waste. Bionaphtha supply comes from Eni which has transformed two refineries in Venice and Porto Marghera into biorefineries, guaranteeing the supply of sustainable raw materials from vegetable oils, used food oils or other types of organic waste.

ISCC PLUS is part of the ISCC certification scheme (International Sustainability & Carbon Certification). It is a voluntary scheme that enables companies along the supply chain to monitor and be able to demonstrate the sustainability of their products by checking sustainability, traceability and mass balance requirements.

Versalis' certified products include monomers and intermediates such as ethylene, propylene, benzene, styrene, butadiene, and polymers such as polyethylene (LDPE, HDPE, LLDPE), styrenics (PS, EPS and ABS), and elastomers (SBR, BR, EPDM) which do not differ in their chemical composition and physical-mechanical performance from those made from fossil fuel-based raw materials.

The ISCC PLUS certification process that Versalis launched in 2020 will be extended to other Italian and overseas plants this year, confirming the tangibility of its circular economy strategy, which also aims to use sustainable raw materials.

Versalis is restarting the production of bioethanol from second-generation sugars in Crescentino (Vercelli), using a process-water recycling system. The site will be fully energy independent and will use lignin, the part of the biomass not used in the production of second-generation sugars, in the thermoelectric plant. In addition, the raw material (residual biomass not in competition with the food chain) will mainly come from a short supply chain, namely from suppliers within a 70km radius, and wood industry production waste. The production process in Crescentino is based on Proesa® technology for the conversion of biomass into second-generation sugars. Thanks to the research and know-how developed by Versalis, this technology will make it possible to continue to advance the production of a complete range of fermentative renewable products such as bio-oils for biorefineries, PHA polymers, intermediates for biopolymers and biochemicals.

In response to the covid-19 health emergency, Versalis made its expertise and Crescentino facilities available to produce a range of disinfectants, called Invix®, using ethanol from vegetable raw materials as an active ingredient.

The production line of the Crescentino plant was converted and dedicated to the production of this product.

The disinfectant is medical-surgical grade and was developed from a World Health Organisation formulation and authorised by the Italian Ministry of Health.

The product is an effective disinfectant due to its alcohol and hydrogen peroxide content and an emollient because of its glycerine content.

The range includes two hand disinfection products: a gel with a cellulose-based thickener, free from microplastics, and a liquid. The Invix® range will soon be expanded with a liquid specifically designed for surfaces.

In Porto Torres (Sardinia), with the Matrìca Joint Venture, Versalis has created an innovative renewable chemicals platform for the production of biointermediates for high value-added applications (e.g. paints, inks, bioplastics, biolubricants and bioherbicides), in line with the circular economy model.

In the agriculture sector, Versalis is entering the bio-based crop-protection product market. Thanks to an agreement with AlphaBio Control, Versalis will develop herbicides and biocides for plant-based, biodegradable surface disinfection, using active ingredients produced from the renewable chemicals platform in Porto Torres, Sardinia. AlphaBio Control is a research and development company with offices in the United Kingdom and Italy that specialises in the production of natural formulations for crop protection, its products are already known in the pesticides market.

The commercialisation of the two product lines will be launched in Italy shortly and there are plans to expand the portfolio with new products that the two companies are studying in their research laboratories.

Another sector is the production of natural rubber and resins from the Guayule shrub, a plant native to the Mexican/Arizona desert, 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.

 

Partnerships and other initiatives

The Circular Plastics Alliance and pledges for plastic recycling

Versalis has joined 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 is supported by the European Commission and its members include many companies and associations from across the value chain. It aims to encourage the recycling of plastics in Europe and develop the secondary raw materials market.

By joining the CPA, Versalis confirms its commitment to its circular economy strategy which is based on three main pillars: eco-design, recycling technologies and feedstock diversification.

in the area of eco-design, Versalis has committed to using packaging with up to 50% recycled material for at least half of its packaging for transporting products on pallets and in containers.

In the recycling and feedstock diversification areas, Versalis has committed to increasing the production capacity of Versalis Revive®, its new line of polyethylene and polystyrene products which contain up to 70% of mechanically recycled plastic. To increase the recovery and recycling of all types of plastics that cannot be processed mechanically, Versalis is developing a new chemical recycling technology to transform mixed plastic waste into raw material to manufacture new virgin polymers. These polymers have identical characteristics to those derived from fossil fuels and are suitable for all applications, including those requiring high quality and performance, such as food packaging.

Other pledges that Versalis has made include life cycle analysis to assess the sustainability of its initiatives, and raising awareness and encouraging the active involvement of its employees in the responsible use of plastics in their daily activities.

 

Operation Clean Sweep

Versalis is strongly committed to the implementation of Operation Clean Sweep, an international voluntary programme designed to reduce and prevent the leakage of plastic granules into the environment along the entire value chain (producers, processors, compounders, transporters, recyclers, etc.), a problem identified as one of the sources of marine plastic pollution.

 

AEPW-Alliance to End Plastic Waste

Versalis has recently joined the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (AEPW), a non-profit organisation that aims to invest $1.5 billion over 5 years to achieve concrete solutions to the problem of plastic waste and marine pollution.

The Alliance will promote projects and partnerships in four key areas:

  • Development of infrastructure to collect and manage waste and to increase recycling rates
  • Innovation support to propose and implement new technologies that facilitate plastic recycling and recovery, generating value from used plastics;
  • Training and involvement of governments, businesses and communities to mobilise action from all stakeholders;
  • Cleaning up areas that have the highest concentration of plastic waste in the environment, with a focus on the main leakage channels, such as rivers that carry it to the sea.

Versalis and Circular Economy Associations

Versalis actively participates in the main associations and working groups for the Circular Economy, both at a national and European level.

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