Assessing the Economic Viability of the Plastic Biorefinery Concept and Its Contribution to a More Circular Plastic Sector
It is widely accepted that plastic waste is one of the most urgent environmental concerns the world is currently facing. The emergence of bio-based plastics provides an opportunity to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and transition to a more circular plastics economy. For polyethylene terephthalate (PET), one of the most prevalent plastics in packaging and textiles, two bio-based alternatives exist that are similar or superior in terms of material properties and recyclability. These are polyethylene furanoate (PEF) and polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT). The overarching aim of this study was to examine the transition from fossil-based to renewable plastics, through the lens of PET upcycling into PEF and PTT. The process for the production of PEF and PTT from three waste feed streams was developed in the SuperPro Designer software and the economic viability assessed via a discounted cumulative cash flow (DCCF) analysis. A techno-economic analysis of the designed process revealed that the minimum selling price (MSP) of second generation-derived PEF and PTT is 3.13 USD/kg, and that utilities and the feedstock used for the production of 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) needed in PEF synthesis contributed the most to the process operating costs. The effect of recycling PEF and PTT through the process at three recycling rates (42%, 50% and 55%) was investigated and it was revealed that increased recycling could reduce the MSP of the 2G bio-plastics (by 48.5%) to 1.61 USD/kg. This demonstrates that the plastic biorefinery, together with increasing recycling rates, would have a beneficial effect on the economic viability of upcycled plastics.