VTT launches Olefy to transform circular plastic recycling

Circular economy

Finland – VTT is spinning out Olefy technology in October after four decades of thermal conversion technology development – a process that can affordably convert most of the world’s waste plastics back to usable virgin grade materials an infinite number of times. VTT has also announced the filing of eight patent applications for the process.

VTT has announced the formation of a new company, Olefy Technologies. Its patent-pending technology can recover more than 70% of virgin grade plastics and chemical raw material components from plastic waste. The new process can be completed in a single step, significantly lowering the cost of plastic recycling and making recycling the preferred option for massive amounts of landfill-bound plastic waste that current methods cannot process.

Only 8-10% of global plastics are recycled today, with mechanical recycling accounting for the majority. However, only a portion of plastic waste can be recycled mechanically. Furthermore, the recycled plastic produced cannot be used in food packaging or pharmaceutical applications. The majority of plastic waste ends up in landfills. Because Olefy can produce virgin quality plastic from previously unusable plastic waste, it is economically feasible to recycle the majority of the world’s plastics with minimal sorting by consumers and businesses.

Recycling infinite number of times

The ability to recycle plastic an infinite number of times is a significant benefit of the virgin quality materials produced by the Olefy process. Naphtha is a crude oil product that is normally required in the production of conventional plastics. Olefy’s new technology eliminates the need for naphtha feedstock while also producing sufficient energy for the process.

Major consumer product companies have set lofty goals for incorporating recycled plastic into their products and packaging, with a typical target of 25% of total packaging by 2025. Global demand for sustainable and recycled plastics is greater than ever. To produce a ton of virgin grade plastic material, the Olefy process requires the same amount of ethylene or propylene-based waste plastic as higher-cost naphtha feedstock. At the same time, the process itself significantly reduces the cost of producing recycled plastic, potentially lowering the bar for global companies to use it as a higher percentage of recycled material in their products and packaging.

There are approximately 500 industrial steam cracker operations worldwide. A steam cracker is a petrochemical plant that converts light hydrocarbons like ethane, propane, and light naphtha into ethylene. Olefy’s new technologies economically open up a new world and value for these facilities’ plastic waste.

The Olefy pilot is currently operational at the VTT Bioruukki Pilot Centre in Espoo, Finland. The company is currently discussing partnerships and negotiating with investors for the technology’s scaling, business development, and licensing. The first industrial demonstration operation is scheduled to begin in 2026. Olefy’s technology was created as part of VTT LaunchPad, a science-based incubator where VTT researchers and technology are combined with business expertise and investors to revitalize industries. VTT LaunchPad assists incubator teams in developing VTT-owned intellectual property into fundable spin-off companies.