When it comes to recycling, some plastics are more difficult to recycle than others and are often sent to landfill, incineration or are leaked into the environment. Exciting innovations within the plastics industry could, however, make this a thing of the past.

Mura Technology’s new process HydroPRS, converts waste plastics into virgin grade, recycled hydrocarbons; creating a circular economy, and significantly reducing carbon emissions from the plastics industry. It’s a development that looks set to revolutionise the industry, and potentially eliminate single use plastic from our lives.

Plastics that were considered non-recyclable, up until recently, were destined to be buried, burned, or leaked into the environment. But Mura’s multimillion pound plant, nearing completion in Teesside, North East England, is proving those plastics can indeed be recycled.

Approved by Mura Technology

The first HydroPRS site is designed to prove the concept works at scale, so it can then be rolled out worldwide — as Richard Daley, the company’s Chief Technology Officer, explains as part of our Engineering a Sustainable World programme.

Richard Daley, Chief Technology Officer at Mura Technology.

“A lot of materials are burned or leak into the environment, being shipped overseas to be treated by less developed countries, and we’ve all seen the effects of that,” Richard says. “What we want to do is take that material, put it through our process, and recycle it back into liquid hydrocarbons to make new plastics.”

When it comes to recycling in our own homes, confusion still abounds on what can and can’t be recycled. But what’s being built on Teesside could revolutionise what we do with our plastic once we’re done with it, and ensure all plastic is recycled and reused.

For example, the plastic trays used for ready meals can’t be recycled by traditional mechanical methods, but Mura’s plant is able to deal with them, and other flexible multi-layered plastics, that would normally end up as waste.

How does HydroPRS work?

Once shredded, any contaminants like metals and glass are removed and sent for normal recycling. The remaining plastic is then pressurised and heated, and sent to the HydroPRS reactor, where it’s mixed with what’s known as ‘supercritical’ steam.

This breaks it back down to its component molecules so it can be reused in the manufacture of new plastic products, creating a new circular economy for plastic.

“We’re actually using water under high pressure and temperature as a solvent. So, we’re using water to crack solid plastics back into the liquid oils and hydrocarbons from which they were made, which are used as a feedstock for the PetChem industry to make new plastics. So, importantly for us, there are no limits to the number of times that material can be recycled in this way,” explains Richard.

 

Careers in chemical engineering: Working to change the world

Jess Gregson, a Process Engineer at Mura Technology, studied chemical engineering at university and was keen to use that knowledge in forging a sustainable future.

“I applied for this job more to do with the environmental aspect of it, and I want to be involved in the plastics recycling and anything that’s environmentally helping the world,” she tells our reporter.

She joined as a graduate when the site was no more than a blueprint.

“Everything was just drawings on paper, and now we’re almost coming towards the start of commissioning and actually running the plant through and testing everything, making sure the safety is there, and hopefully getting towards operations fairly soon.”

Jess Gregson, Process Engineer at Mura Technology.

Explore more: How Swansea University is inspiring the next generation of chemical engineers 

 

The plant will produce 20,000 tonnes of recycled hydrocarbons per year, as a commercial sized operation, but the plan is to expand the site up to three times that size.

Everyone involved in delivering this new technology knows just what an achievement it’s been. 

“Every day’s a challenge and exciting. We’ve faced many issues over the course of the project from the pandemic through to the Ukraine war, and its impact on the supply chain,” says Steve Garbutt, Project Director at Mura Technology. “We’re getting very close now, it’s an exciting new technology in the plastic recycling world. It feels like we’re very much right at the cutting edge of the sector.”

Steve Garbutt, Project Director at Mura.

These complex plastics can now be turned back into raw materials for new plastic manufacturing. No longer a problematic waste that has to be disposed of. So, is this the end of single use plastics?

“Burning plastics emits roughly 40% more CO2 than coal. So, from an environmental perspective it’s a really bad thing to do. We view this as a truly game-changing technology in the recycling industry.

The goal is to keep plastics in a truly circular loop, so that the plastics are used and then recycled, remade, and reused again…” says Richard.

Watch the film to learn more.

Our upcoming programme: Engineering, Today, Tomorrow and Beyond

Engineering is everywhere. From agriculture to aerospace, from chemistry to construction, the profession makes up nearly a fifth of the UK workforce. Skilled engineers are also a cornerstone of our economy, fundamental to solving problems of today and tomorrow, and to achieving our net zero commitments. However, we are facing a shortage, driven by a combination of factors including an aging workforce and a general misunderstanding of the variety of compelling career options and opportunities within the sector.

Engineering: Today, Tomorrow & Beyond, featuring the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), will shine a light on the positive work in action across the spectrum of engineering specialties, raise awareness of the various possibilities in engineering careers and reinforce how critical the engineering profession is to achieving our sustainability goals.

There are commercial opportunities for leading organisations to be featured in the programme and spearhead their own news item. If your organisation wants to share what you stand for and be part of this important conversation, please contact our ITN Business Programming Directors, Isabella Sharp or James Salver.