SPIRIT theme in the spotlight: Renewable feedstock

We talked to Key Account Manager Antti Ilves, who oversees the identification of new, sustainable feedstock for petrochemical production in the New Business Development team at Borealis. He is also leading the SPIRIT research theme on renewable feedstock, which explores renewable and recycled raw materials for a more sustainable future of the plastics industry. 

Shifting from fossil feedstock to renewable and recycled 

Antti starts by reminding that the plastics of the future will be manufactured using renewable (bio-based) or recycled feedstock or CO2 captured from the ambient air. The challenge for this SPIRIT research theme, which applies to the petrochemical industry at large, is to identify and develop technologies which can process renewable feedstock in a form acceptable by petrochemical production processes. The SPIRIT programme supports the Borealis objective where by 2030, one third of the raw materials are based on renewable or recycled feedstock.

In Finland, there is plenty of biomass available through the side streams of the forest industry. For example, biomethanol and lignin can be well suited for plastics production. The SPIRIT programme explores the possibilities of these two raw materials along with other feedstocks.

Technology partners with specific knowledge welcome

Antti Ilves thinks that this research theme will benefit from a variety of partners. They could be technology partners with a specific know-how on an interesting technology (e.g. mixing technology or hydrogenation), partners providing feedstock, universities, research organisations or device suppliers.

The research challenges are not only related to the massive transition away from fossil raw materials, but also to the technology readiness level (TRL) related to each feedstock type. Those with a low readiness level may offer huge possibilities, but still require innovation, systematic development, and careful analysis. This is where we have a lot to learn within the SPIRIT ecosystem.

Aspects of identifying the suitable feedstock

There are quite a few factors affecting the selection of the most suitable feedstock for more sustainable plastics. One aspect is related to values. For example, the Borealis has selected that feedstock cannot compete with the food chain –  also animal fats are a definite no-go in the production of plastics for food packaging. However, there are still residual side streams waiting to be discovered and this is what the SPIRIT programme aims to do.

Another factor is related to quality of the renewable plastics: for the customer, the polyethylene or polypropylene must maintain the same quality than fossil sources when the raw material is from a more sustainable source. The key in all production processes and life cycles is also to keep any waste or side streams from ending up in nature. This is where developing closed loop processes plays an important role.

Antti Ilves is excited to have a front seat in this massive transition of the plastics industry where the SPIRIT programme is in the forefront to create a positive plastics revolution. He sums up: ”The work has only just started, and we need good and open collaboration and an innovative mindset across the different stakeholders within the SPIRIT ecosystem.”

Do you have what it takes to join the SPIRIT programme? Send us a message through the contact page so we can learn more about your area of expertise!


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