According to Dow, partnering with Mura also offered benefits compared to others in the market. For Dow, the ability to scale was a decisive factor. As Marc van den Biggelaar said: "We need to scale up quickly, and we need the right partners to do so. In Mura, we found the right partner to make it happen." A plant this size moreover meets the requirements of scale without either party having to take too much risk, while providing valuable learnings for the future.
Mura has consistently targeted its development at deploying its technology at scale, and it has done so through partnerships, and not just with Dow. Lacking the global engineering resources to design and build its recycling plants at scale, it entered into a partnership with KBR, a major engineering firm to do so. KBR are Mura's exclusive partner on supporting licensees around the world.
Mahon pointed out that Mura's technology is inherently scalable. Originally developed by an Australian firm called Licella Holdings, it utilizes supercritical steam to break down plastics and convert them back into the chemicals and oils from which they were made. The supercritical steam, which is actually water at elevated pressure and temperature, acts like molecular scissors, cutting longer-chain hydrocarbon bonds in the plastic to produce shorter-chain hydrocarbon products, which can be used to produce new, virgin-grade plastics. Called HydroPRS—Hydrothermal Plastic Recycling Solution—it is a chemical recycling process that takes around 25 minutes, and that can be used to recycle all forms of plastic, including flexible and multi-layer plastics, which have previously been deemed "unrecyclable." There is no limit to the number of times the same material can be recycled.
"So it's a different approach than most people take, which is one of just to use heat. Because the supercritical steam is mixing directly with the plastics, it's a very even and intimate mixing, which allows us to scale. You're not heating from the outside walls, you're heating everything equally, making it a very efficient, even process," Mahon said.
"But this process, apart from having very good temperature control and scalability, also yields a very high conversion of plastic molecules—that come in as waste—into a usable product, be it gas or liquid. It's a very efficient process in terms of what is converted into usable product. The technology is the key to enabling us to do this efficiently at scale and economically," he added.
Real world feedstock input, however, is a sticking point.
The Böhlen plant will collaborate with a local waste management plant that is developing technology to separate the plastics waste from the collected household waste up front, ready for processing in the Mura system. This processing includes an upgrading step by Mura to obtain the quality specification needed, prior to adding the output to the cracker. Amongst others, the chlorine must be separated out. "So, we will be partnering on managing the interface that addresses changes over time, to maintain a stable quality," said Mahon. It is also why the two partners are focusing on larger units: only then can the process become an economically viable one.