Waste to Value

Published on 13 Mar, 2020

Today, the environment is facing the threat of ecological imbalance, and one of the reasons for this is the massive amount of waste being generated. Efficient waste management is an urgent requirement, and every company needs to be responsible and ensure that waste is disposed through environment-friendly methods. Technological innovations have led to the emergence of various techniques of creating value from waste products. Waste management is now not just about recycling but reusing and ensuring optimum utilisation of all resources.

Technological advancement, a boon in many aspects, is also responsible for largescale degradation of the environment and depletion of natural resources, factors that have contributed to massive generation of waste. What has aggravated the issue is a dearth of efficient waste management techniques.

On the positive side, awareness regarding waste management is increasing. Industries are coming up with innovative technologies to convert various kinds of waste into useful products. This includes reusing waste to develop new products, which could pave the way for a circular economy.

Currently, waste is processed through conventional methods and converted into compost, syngas, charcoal, biogas, etc. The drawback with traditional methods is that they do not help in extracting the optimum value of waste, something that innovative technologies developed through long-term research can facilitate.

In their bid to extract valuable products from waste, organizations are investing in research and development across the process chain, from production to transportation to deployment of energy-intensive methods. While these processes may be expensive, the cost can be recovered from the final product.

Conventional Processes
The traditional process for converting waste (in this case, biomass) to value (gases or chemicals) is depicted below.

Innovative Processes
Processes have been segregated based on their impact on the environment.

High impact solutions – Processing of non-biodegradable waste

PET plastic into molecular level – Ioniqa, a startup based in the Netherlands, has developed a technology (a patented magnetic catalyst) to break down PET plastic into its molecular level; this would help in arriving at the original building blocks.
Gr3n has developed a technology that can break down consumer PET into its basic components – ethylene glycol and terephthalic acid – using microwave radiation. The process, termed Depolymerization by Microwave Technology, can be applied to convert any product made from PET into its original form.

Polypropylene products to virgin plastic – PureCycle Technologies convert old polypropylene into virgin-like plastic via a process that entails melting and filtering plastic using a gas solvent to separate dyes, odors, and other contaminants. The process is marked by its low cost and absence of chemical reactions observed in other recycling technologies. The technology, developed by P&G, has been licensed to this startup.

Polyester waste into polymer building blocks – Eastman’s technology, based on methanolysis, helps break down polyester and PET-based products into polymer building blocks. Two base monomers – dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and ethylene glycol – are derived that can then be used to manufacture virgin polyester.

Plastics to molecular building blocks such as carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen – Eastman’s carbon renewal technology is used to recycle the most complex plastic waste. Waste plastic feedstock is broken down to the molecular form to be used as building blocks. The waste plastic can be recycled multiple number of times without its quality being affected.

Medium Impact solution – Processing of bio-degradable waste

Tires from eggshells and tomato peels – This technique, discovered by researchers at the Ohio State University, is used to produce fillers from food waste, particularly tomato peels and eggshells, that can be used as a substitute to petroleum-based filler carbon black, which is used in manufacturing tires. Apart from this, food waste can be converted into biofuel.

Household waste to energy (processed at home) – Home Energy Resources Unit (HERU) has developed a patented heat pipe technology to convert everyday materials, such as paper and cardboard, plastic, garden clippings, packaging, and uneaten food, into fuel for domestic and commercial heating applications. Only metal and glass cannot be fed into the system. The highlight of this technology is that it can be installed at households, which eliminates the need for transporting, sorting, recollecting, and supplying to and from a processing plant.

Nanofibers, pectin, biofuels from orange peel – Researchers at IIT Hyderabad developed a process under which orange-peel extract sediments under gravity, forming three layers:

  • The top layer is oil-type and can be used for polystyrene recycling.
  • The second layer consists of cellulose particles. Upon being heated in an inert atmosphere, these convert into carbon material that can be used as electrodes in Lithium-ion batteries.
  • The bottom layer, which is like water, can be used as a natural solvent for biopolymers such as gelatin, which, in turn, is used to produce nanofibers.

VWaste, an innovative startup that extracts oil and powder from orange peels; these are thereafter used in the production of pectin.

Waste into biofuel – British Petroleum and Johnson Matthey have licensed their innovative Fischer-Tropsch technology, developed over 30 years, to Fulcrum BioEnergy. The process entails converting synthesis gas, produced from sources such as municipal solid waste and other renewable biomass, into long-chain hydrocarbons that can be used to produce diesel and jet fuel.

Cooking oil into biodiesel – Novozymes has developed Eversa, an enzyme-based solution, to convert used cooking oil or other low-grade oils into biodiesel.

Carbon-rich waste into fuel using microbes – LanzaTech converts carbon-rich waste into biofuel via a gas fermentation technology based on patented microbes.

PHA bioplastics from cellulosic waste – Full Cycle Bioplastics has developed a technology to manufacture polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) bioplastic using organic and cellulosic waste as feedstock. Waste is treated in a digestion unit to produce a strong wastewater intermediate. The fatty acids in the wastewater are fed to non-GMO bacteria, which convert them into PHA.

Challenges in Converting Waste to Value

  • Segregated and mixed waste - The waste generated from industries, such as orange peel and cooked oil, are easy to process. They can be sourced directly and transported to the processing facility without any impurities. Municipal waste, on the other hand, contains organic, inorganic, glass, metal, and other materials. It can be segregated using technologies but at an added cost. Waste can be managed efficiently by segregating properly at source and using dedicated means of transportation to deliver at processing centers; this would prevent mixing up of unwanted materials. Domestic users do not separate wet and dry garbage which makes recycling a challenging task.
  • Loopholes in regulations – Current waste generation and disposal regulations are not stringent enough to ensure effective implementation. Rules for separate disposal of different types of waste, although defined, are not imposed strictly.
  • Non-availability of local waste treatment facilities – Transportation of waste increases the input cost associated with treatment at plant. This renders the process uneconomical. Local processing plants need to be set up at the outskirts of cities to make waste processing economical.
  • Legal and illegal transport of waste material – Stringent regulations have been implemented to check the dumping of waste from countries such as the US and Europe in Asian countries such as China and India. Despite the restrictions, some specific grades of waste are still dumped. The material is burnt in furnaces or discarded in landfills, either ways contributing to the emission of harmful gases.

How Aranca Can Help
The technologies mentioned above provide information on only a few innovative technologies developed recently. As a research partner, Aranca can help you in scouting for sustainable technologies and identifying potential licensing/M&A targets. After defining the waste produced by your company or the waste that you are interested in generating value from, we can suggest technologies that are in the conceptual stage or have been commercialized. Implementing these technologies will help you to valorize your waste, generate revenue from it, and become socially responsible.