Demand for PET recycling technologies continues to grow

Austrian Erema Engineering Recycling Maschinen und Anlagen Ges.m.b.H announced that the demand for its PET recycling technologies is growing worldwide across the entire PET segment. “Despite declining sales of beverages due to the Corona pandemic and a tense situation in the recycling industry accounted for by the fall in the price of virgin material, interest in our PET recycling technologies remains high,” reports Christoph Wöss, Business Development Manager at Erema. One of the reasons for this is the advanced technologies that combine high product safety, stable processes and cost effectiveness. Another reason is that all well-known brand manufacturers, policy makers and society in general are now committed to making plastics recycling and the circular economy work. The EU has set out its position on this topic with targets for recycling quotas and minimum recycling levels in PET bottles.

Erema estimates the total capacity of all PET recycling machines sold to date for various applications at 2.6 million t/a, with the recent trend pointing clearly towards large-scale systems processing 2,000kg/h upwards. A recycling system installed in Mexico this year is outstanding in this respect. It consists of two Vacurema Basic T machines with a throughput capacity of 4,000kg/h each and Solid State Polycondensation (SSP). “The customer is planning an annual production of up to 60,000t of food contact compliant rPET. These are the largest systems we have ever built, but our order books already have an order for an even larger one,” says Christoph Wöss.

Erema is particularly satisfied with the market success of the innovative Vacunite technology, which redefines the benchmark for performance in bottle-to-bottle. In just under two years, the energy-efficient system, developed in cooperation with Polymetrix, has already been sold to 13 customers worldwide. The Vacunite process is claimewd to combine vacuum and nitrogen technology, to ensure maximum decontamination efficiency and, with the best rPET colour values, also to ensure that higher proportions of rPET are possible in the bottle end product.

Growth is driven by more than the positive development of the bottle-to-bottle sector. Processing PET flakes directly into preforms (flakes-to-preform) or film in a single processing step – made possible using the Multi Purpose Reactor, which can be installed as an upgrade to existing film extrusion lines (bottle-to-sheet) – and especially into recycled pellets for the textile industry (bottle-to-POY) also boosts demand in this segment. In total, Erema was able to deliver 42 plants with a total capacity of 643,000t/a within one year between October 2019 and October 2020. This is roughly equivalent to the total capacity of all PET recycling machines sold from 2011 to 2018 and shows that capacity is continually increasing.

Extended all-inclusive service package for bottle customers

Following the successful development of the PET recycling sector of the market, the number of specialists in the process engineering and commissioning teams working on these plants is also growing. As a service to customers, Erema specialists take on the task of applying for assessments of the respective recycling process by the European Food and Safety Authority (efsa) and provide advice and support in the preparations for the approval procedures required for the production of food contact compliant rPET. Finally, following the expansion of manufacturing and office space, the customer centre at the company headquarters in Ansfelden is also currently being expanded. Material tests using the Vacunite process will also be carried out on-site at Erema, expected to start during the first half of 2021.

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Photo: Michael Heitzinger (Managing Director, Erema) Christoph Wöss (Business Development Manager Erema Group GmbH) and Patrich Rachinger (Product Group Manager, Erema) at the site of the new customer centre, where a Vacunite system for material test runs is being installed. (Photo: Erema)