SK geocentric to build first comprehensive plastic recycling facility in Ulsan

2023.09.18 12:02:01 | 2023.09.18 13:41:11

The Ulsan Advanced Recycling Cluster (ARC) construction site. [Courtesy of SK innovation]이미지 확대

The Ulsan Advanced Recycling Cluster (ARC) construction site. [Courtesy of SK innovation]



SK geocentric Co., the chemical unit of South Korea’s SK Group, will build the world’s first comprehensive plastic recycling complex that incorporates three chemical recycling technologies in a single location.

Upon completion, the complex is expected to process and chemically recycle 320,000 tons of plastic waste each year, resulting in a sharp reduction in carbon emissions.

SK geocentric announced a plan on Sunday to build an Ulsan Advanced Recycling Cluster (ARC), a recycling facility for plastic waste, in a site of 215,000 square meters Ulsan, South Gyeongsang Province.

Construction will begin in October with a massive investment of 1.8 trillion won ($1.35 billion).

The site is adjacent to SK Ulsan Complex (CLX) where affiliates of SK innovation Co. are located.

“The facility will encompass three distinct processes, along with a dedicated power and water supply infrastructure,” said Kim Gi-hyun, a project manager at SK geocentric.

They include pyrolysis, a method that converts contaminated waste plastic into a substance resembling crude oil, PET depolymerization, which dismantles the molecular connections in plastic to eliminate impurities and generate a product resembling the original material, and a so-called supercritical process for extracting high-purity polypropylene (PP).

The current plastic recycling takes place only by grinding plastic substances into pieces. Most of the plastic, even when separated, end up in landfills for incineration.

As part of its effort to find a breakthrough, SK geocentric has been working on a chemical approach that enables the company to handle plastics, even contaminated or mixed with different materials.

Pyrolysis, the most common approach, is a technology that leaves waste plastic exposed to high temperatures to extract it from oil, similar to crude oil.

Using the technology makes it possible to convert even the materials previously suitable for incineration, like plastic bags, into naphtha, a fundamental petrochemical material.

“Pyrolysis oil will be used as a raw material for petrochemical procedures such as manufacturing of containers for foods and detergents,” Kim said.

PET depolymerization is the perfect form of chemical recycling, as it chemically dismantles waste plastic to yield the original substance and structure of a plastic substance.

“We plan to engage in the recycling of colored PET and polyester fiber fabrics, which pose challenges in the current recycling practices,” said Park Ji-hoon, another project manager at SK geocentric. “Our technology collaborator, Loop Industry, currently provides recycled PET for use in Evian water bottles.”

For extraction of high-purity polypropylene (PP), the so-called supercritical technology will be used, a process achieved by subjecting a substance to precise temperature and pressure conditions, causing it to transition between a liquid and a gas formation. This specific process enables the extraction of exclusively high-purity PP.

PP finds applications in various sectors, including automotive interiors and cosmetic containers, which explains many customers’ demand for this material.

The driving factor encouraging SK geocentric to build the world‘s first plastic recycling cluster comes from the company’s commitment to environmental issues and its drive for investment in a potentially high-valued industry. SK geocentric has secured necessary technologies in collaboration with partners in the three respective sectors of recycling.

By Song Min-geun and Han Yubin

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