Hi. My name is John Layman. I’m currently the Director of Sustainable Materials Development at the Procter and Gamble Company. I’m also the inventor of the Solvent Purification process that’s used by PureCycle to purify recycled polypropylene to virgin-like state.
Today, I’m recording this video from my home in the Cincinnati area, where I’ll provide answers to some very common questions. The format of this video is, I’ll go through each question, I’ll read them one-by one and then I’ll provide my response. I’ll tell you in advance that I may get a little long-winded. If I do, I apologize for the length of this video, but I’ll do my best to keep the answers concise.
As I mentioned, I’ll go through one-by-one each question and then provide the response. Before I do, I do need to read a disclaimer that this video represents my answers as the scientist who invented the technology, to the technical questions presented to me. It should not be construed as providing an opinion on any investment decision.
With that disclaimer in place, let me go ahead and get started on question number one, which was, “Please provide the background and history of P&G seeking technologies to recycle polypropylene and when none were found, to take the initiative to develop the technology in-house.”
This actually started back in, I would say, around 2010, where I had the fun job as a senior scientist within P&G to identify sources of recycled polypropylene among other plastics – however, polypropylenes are the largest plastic we use at P&G – and to find sources to maximize the amount of recycled polypropylene in our products and package. Polypropylene is special to P&G because it’s the single largest plastic that we use. We use it in a variety of applications, whether it’s non-wovens, films, injection molded parts like toothbrush handles, razor blade handles, anti-perspirant canisters or all sorts of packaging components like caps, closures, dispenser systems. It’s a very important material. It was, and is, and will remain an important material to our business.
And like I said, I had the job of identifying sources of that, that would enable us to use upwards of 100% recycled content. Well, at that time, there were really no options. We had canvassed the world looking for either companies that were selling high-quality recycled polypropylene, or companies that were specializing in developing technologies. We did quite a rigorous assessment of the industry looking for potential partners. As the question implies, we really couldn’t find any, and we really thought about it and said, “P&G has 8,000 technologists, we’re a pretty strong R&D company, we are a cleaning company – can we put our powers of cleaning to work on cleaning recycled resins?” That was really the motivation that led to the technology.
Now, as I mentioned, this started back in about 2010 was where we started the journey of really, really wanting to get high quality polypropylene into our business, but it took a couple of years of development. It was one of these scenarios where it started small, small investment, small amount of my time. But then as we kept hitting milestones of success, getting the technology at a point where we could put in really dirty polypropylene, including used dirty diapers, and started getting really high quality material, that we would certainly reuse again, we got really excited.
In about 2012, we really started putting a lot more investment into the process and the technology. It was along that time that, after having established that we had a technology at lab-scale that would work, we also felt that we needed to prove that it was something that there could be a business built around it. And so we started along that journey working with a large EPC firm out of South Carolina and started developing not only perfecting of the process, but also, proving out a very initial business model that, indeed, you could recycle this at a capex and opex that was really practical and made sense.
Back to the motivation, getting high-quality recycled polypropylene was our goal and remains our goal. This technology is the answer to that, in our minds, that we can take really, really dirty sources of various types of polypropylene, whether it’s film, non-woven scrap, film scrap, injection molded parts, stuff from your recycle bin, put it through the process, make it clean and then go back into our business, and for us, we want it to be more or less transparent. We can use the material in any application we can.
Hopefully, this provides a bit of a background on why we created this technology and the motivation for developing something that most people wouldn’t identify as P&G’s core business.
The second question – “Discuss P&G’s excitement level for this technology, why P&G didn’t want to commercialize this technology on our own?” The first part of this question is quite simple. We are super excited about it. For us, we want to deliver more environmentally responsible products for our consumers. When I say product, from now and the rest of this recording, assume that means either product or package. Anyway, we want to develop our same great, awesome products, but doing it in a more environmentally responsible way. We do believe this is key to serving our consumers, the way that they need, their basic needs met with our products, but doing it in a way where there’s less guilt, doing it in a way where they know that when they buy our products they’re making a responsible choice.
Our excitement level is wanting to deliver against that mission which we publicly declared as what we call Ambition 2030, which for P&G means by the year 2030 we want to displace 50% of our virgin plastic usage. To do that though, it’s going to require technologies like the PureCycle process to be able to have virgin like materials so that we can achieve those really high levels of displacement. Again, the excitement for us comes back to being able to deliver against that overarching mission.
The second part of this question, “Why didn’t P&G want to commercialize this on their own, or on our own?” This is not part of our core business. If you look at P&G today, we’re not a vertically integrated supplier. We don’t make our own plastics. We generally buy those and then partner with converters to actually make plastic articles for products or packaging. It really wasn’t strategic to our business to get into this part of the space.
As was mentioned in the previous question, the only reason we got into the technology development is because, really, there was no solution on the market that met our needs. Really, with our backs against the wall, we decided to develop that technology, knowing from day one that should we be successful, we would partner with someone externally to bring that technology to life, which obviously is what brings us to this recording today.
The next question – “Please discuss the background for selecting Innventure as your commercialization partner and how P&G and Innventure have integrated their efforts to develop, commercialize the process and manufacturing.” As I mentioned a bit ago, when we had developed the technology and we had proven that, again, the capex and opex were reasonable and there could be a business built around it, we then started developing an options analysis in terms of who would be the best partner.
Back in 2000 – and this is now a couple of years later, call it 2014/2015 time frame, we had known that we could partner with, I would say, traditional existing polyolefin companies and producers, companies like Dow, Exxon and LyondellBasell. However, at the time, and I do think things have changed since then, but at the time, we were concerned that because this was partially in conflict with their current business model, which was buying crude, refining it, producing monomers then producing virgin plastics, we weren’t exactly sure how receptive the petrochemical industry would be to a technology like this. While it was exciting to us as a consumer goods company, we weren’t exactly sure how it would be received by, again, the likes of the traditional virgin plastic manufacturers.
In addition to that, we also were excited about a startup disruptive technology. We knew that this would change the game for plastics recycling. There would be a lot of energy and enthusiasm behind it. For all those reasons, we thought of taking a startup approach.
We also had, at the time, a GBD Director who had established a relationship with Innventure, I think on the order of about 10 years, discussing various project ideas and concepts. P&G was familiar with Innventure and their predecessor company. We knew that they had experience taking disruptive technologies and building businesses around them. To us, it was very appealing and exciting to think of this disruptive technology around a startup, which, as we all know, eventually became PureCycle and we’re quite pleased to work with the principals of Innventure. I think they’ve done a fantastic job scaling the what was a lab-scale technology, into now the pilot-scale feedstock evaluation unit, as well as the plans to build a commercial plant. I think Innventure brings the right level of experience, enthusiasm and passion to make this project successful, and we’ve been quite pleased about that.
Going back to the second part of the question, “How has our relationship been since we agreed to do this process together?” I can tell you that it’s actually been personally for me quite a joy to be still full-time with P&G, but then also partnered with PureCycle to bring this technology to life. Our team has continued to play an ongoing R&D role where we provide R&D support to PureCycle as both part of the tech transfer, as well as the ongoing refinement of the process and the technology. We work together hand-in-hand, work closely with the team in Ironton, Ohio where the facility, the first facility FEU is located, as well as the first commercial plant will be.
We have a great partnership and R&D relationship where we can, again, provide our expertise from developing the process and ensuring that that tech transfer is successful, as well as ongoing questions and issues emerge, we can be available to provide on-the-spot support and information as needed as we continue to scale our process. I would say we have a very strong partnership and relationship, and we’re quite excited about that. We look forward to continuing that and seeing the first commercial plant produce material and integrate that into our products.
For the next question, “From a technical perspective, what are the scaling risks you observed while transitioning from the Phasex test to the FEU? And then what risks do you anticipate scaling from the FEU to larger scales, both 107 million pounds and 165 million pounds per year?”
The first thing I wanted to do is just maybe provide a little bit of context behind what we mean by Phasex test and the FEU. The Phasex test is a lab-scale unit at a testing partner called Phasex. They are in Andover, which is in the Boston area, Massachusetts. They have lab-scale equipment that is designed to operate under the conditions of our process, which is at elevated temperature and pressure.
That’s where all of our development has occurred in terms of developing the initial lab scale process that went into developing our IP portfolio, as well as ongoing lab scale tests that we use daily to continue to refine the technology, to improve it, optimize it, etc. Then the FEU is the feedstock evaluation unit, which is the facility in Ironton, Ohio, which is the first process that we have running at a larger scale than Phasex.
Now, the Phasex process is a batch mode process where we charge on the order of anywhere from a pound or so to maybe a little bit less than a pound of material. We go through a batch mode where we extract it, we purify, and go through all the steps of the process. Then we produce on the order of a pound or so of purified product. We can then do all of the same analytical testing that we do to confirm its purity, quality and mechanical properties. But you’re really stuck on that pound scale.
What’s great about the FEU is we’re able to produce continuously. Instead of doing a pound a day and a batch mode, we can do several pounds an hour (5 pounds to 10 pounds per hour continuously) which affords us the ability to make a lot more material. We can do testing at a scale that we can’t do with material from the Phasex unit.
Now, when it comes to scaling, I would just say issues or I would more likely frame those as typical growing pains of any technology or process, first of all, we transitioned from batch at Phasex to continuous at the FEU. There were always some learnings there. We had, I would say, idiosyncrasies of the technology present themselves of the equipment. We had clogging from time to time where polypropylene would not behave. What I mean by that is it would precipitate from solution, and we would go back and track that and see that it was due to the heat tracing that we used to maintain the temperature wasn’t performing correctly so we’d get a clog and then we’d have to go sort that out.
It’s things like that that we saw. We also, for the first time, as a continuous process, and we advance our knowledge and the process by iteratively run tests at Phasex, apply to the FEU and use those results to design new tests for Phasex.
Again, I would classify these all as very typical learnings that you would get from scaling any technology from lab to the larger continuous scale. What’s great is our feedstock evaluation unit has been operational since July 2019. We’re constantly learning, constantly improving. I think that learning that we get from scaling to the FEU is going to be invaluable as we look to scale to the larger units.
When it comes to scaling bigger, I just want to reflect on the fact that if you look at all of our individual steps or so-called unit operations, all of those are well-known unit ops, extraction columns, extruders, candle filters. All of these pieces of equipment have been known for decades. The use of them individually is, again, there’s huge precedent and experience from many folks on using those.
What’s unique about our process is we’re putting them together in a unique way to process polypropylene and our particular solvent. The solvent we’re using is one that we feel is the best. We’re going to talk about that in a later question. But so, integrating that technology or those steps together with our solvent and our particular polymer, in this case polypropylene, is where the uniqueness comes in. It’s the uniqueness of those pieces of equipment, the solvent and the polymer that present some unknowns.
As we look to scale up the system to larger scale, it’ll be risk associated with making sure the temperature and pressure are maintained in a way that enable us to keep the thermodynamic properties of the process in line so that we can ensure there’s no precipitation, say unwanted precipitation of the polymer that would cause clogging and disrupt production and that sort of thing.
The other big area that we have, I would say, in terms of risk is, unlike a lot of other, say, virgin polypropylene production, we are removing waste from the recycled plastic. Because of that, that waste needs to be removed and a lot of it is solid waste. One of the areas that is somewhat unique to our process is having to take solids that are removed from the recycled plastic – these can be things like pigments or pieces of wood, metal, whatever may be showing up in the recycled plastic – and transitioning those from a pressurized process back to atmospheres. That’s something that we’ll want to keep—we’re putting a lot of diligence to keep an eye on as we continue to scale, is the ability to continuously remove solids and other foreign debris from the process continuously so that we can get those materials out and produce the virgin-like clean material.
When it comes to scaling, even beyond where our first commercial plant will be, again, back to the fact that all of these unit operations are well-known in the chemical engineering industry. Today, unit operations, are much, much bigger than what we’re looking to build even on a 165 million pound per year plant.
The idea that needing to run these at a larger scale, we will not be building new equipment to have to run at that larger scale. I believe some of the bigger risks with the larger scale will be ensuring that we have the feedstock and that feedstock is consistent per our partners’ agreements, the terms of maintaining the spec that we need to ensure we can maintain the levels of productivity on a 165 million pound per year scale.
Now, looking at the next question, “What bottlenecks do you anticipate while ramping the plants up to full capacity?” Well, as I just mentioned, in terms of the scale, we talked about that. I think the fact that you have to ensure you have feedstock coming in and I think that’ll be a bottleneck is ensuring the feedstock is of the right quality, at the right quantity, to keep the larger plants running.
Then as we just discussed, I think there’s going to be, like any new technology and process, there’s going to be learning phases where we have to solve issues as they arise. I think there’s going to be a lot of know-how that PureCycle develops and masters a range of technical challenges. For instance, filtration and continuous filtration. As I mentioned, you’re filtering out contaminants then you have to get those contaminants out of the process, and then either recycle them or at a worst-case scenario, put into a sanitary landfill.
Keep in mind that the amount of contamination that we’re removing is fairly low, less than 5%, but it does have to be removed. I think these two area will be bottlenecks to b addressed, keeping those filter units running consistently and reliably, and being able to go back and forth.
I think that’s where PureCycle will see the greatest bottlenecks and we will be putting attention towards solving. The good news I can tell you is that we are looking around the corner and we anticipate these issues and we’re developing very robust designs with Koch Modular, our engineering partner, to ensure that we get, obviously, the most robust process that we can, obviously, without wanting to go too high in terms of either capex or opex.
The next question, “How temperamental is your process? Do pressures / temperatures need to be exact, or is the process environment-proof?” I will say we certainly aren’t environment-proof. We do have windows for our operating conditions, meaning it doesn’t have to be 100.0001 degrees C. We certainly have a range that we can tolerate.
What’s great is we’ve learned from operating our feedstock evaluation unit, exactly what parts of the process are sensitive and those that are not and ensuring that we have the right temperature control. We do operate above ambient temperature and pressure and so making sure that we have good insulation on our pipes and following best practices for the management of our environmental conditions.
Like any process or any technology, we do have to be mindful, and it’s very idiosyncratic. There are parts of the process where you do have to be very precise. There are other parts of the process that are not really affected by these temperatures and pressures. We have noticed that in certain parts of the process, if we don’t control the temperature correctly, it can lead to operational issues.
Generally, this doesn’t necessarily mean the entire process stops, it just means maybe the quality of the material coming out wasn’t exactly to our specification. Again, we’re developing a compendium of operational knowledge from the feedstock evaluation unit on what levers in the process, once they’re adjusted, develop different qualities of material. Then learning those lessons at a scale where when we apply that knowledge to the larger scale facility, we won’t have those same issues in terms of temperamentalness and ensuring that when we design the plant from the beginning, any areas of the process that we’ve already identified as being sensitive to temperature and pressure, we essentially designed out any potential concerns or conflicts that will arise from this preservation of our standards’ underlying process.
The next question, “What technical improvements or refinements could be available to further improve the efficiency and yields to the process?” I’ll say, this is a question we ask ourselves daily. As a team, we’re always looking for the most efficient way to achieve the process. I can tell you actually the current design, if you visit our facility in Ironton, Ohio, I’m not exactly sure what iteration it was or is, but I can tell you that our first iterations were much less efficient. We had probably more complex steps, we were running a previous process where we had a lot more changing in the temperatures and pressures.
Now, we run a proprietary process that enables us to use much more simplified pumping equipment list, obviously reducing capex and opex. We’ve already been in this journey of every day; how can we make the process better? I would say that’s not going to stop. We want to see the process to be the most efficient, the highest yield of high-quality polypropylene, no matter what the feedstock is, and so I always believe though that there is opportunity for improvement.
If you look at traditional polypropylene virgin polymerization processes, these have been around since the 1950s and they’re still being improved. I believe that, honestly, the first PureCycle plant in Ironton will be the most expensive, least efficient, most capital-intensive plant that we ever build. I also believe the nth plant, n as in n, whether that’s number 5, number 3, number 10, we don’t know, but obviously those plants are going to get better.
We have some brilliant engineers on our team, and again, I think you’ll see natural evolutionary mechanisms take over, where you’re going to see constant pressure on improving operating costs and reducing complexity and I do believe there’s a lot of opportunity there. One thing to admit is there are a lot of parameters where, for the sake of getting the technology off the ground, we just didn’t have the time to go in and really explore and a full experimental docs, exactly what parameters can be optimized.
We got to a local optimization that works for us but I think as the Company matures and the R&D division of PureCycle matures, there should be some bright engineers looking into how to better optimize some of these particular steps. We do have more or less a case study by unit operation on where we think things could be improved or studied and that sort of thing.
Going to the next question, “Are there adjacent characteristics in the process that could allow someone to modify the existing methodology and establish a competitive alternative to the process?” Let me start the answer to this question by saying first, I’m not an intellectual property attorney, so anything I say is just my technical opinion. However, I will tell you as the first author on the patent estate for PureCycle and really for the solvent process, I’m quite proud of the intellectual property estate that we’ve built.
We’re quite robust, not only covering what we believe is our process, but also modifications to our process that we own the patents for so that it would prevent someone from being able to remove an element from our technology and claim, well, we’re not doing exactly what was described, but we’re doing something close. We actually own that. We developed that ourselves so that somebody couldn’t do that.
We also know that what we’ve filed, we believe, is quite an original discovery. The idea of solvent purification of plastics is certainly not brand-new, but the way we are using this particular alkane solvent under the conditions of temperature and pressure, combined with the purification unit operations that we’ve identified, we do believe is quite unique and I think our patent portfolio shows that quite well.
We have not only quite a broad group of filings, but they’ve also many been granted, and granted not only in the United States, of course, and multiple geographies. What I would always encourage when I get this question is, you can have an intellectual property scored by an IP attorney. An IP attorney can provide a score of how strong they think our technology is, as well as how easy would it be to outmaneuver us.
One maybe anecdote I can share is PureCycle has had a lot of interest and partnerships from the virgin producers of polypropylene, and I don’t believe those producers would come to us if they thought it was just so easy to work around our IP. I think there has been a lot of examples of where people have been impressed by what they’ve read and what they’ve seen, and certainly from a freedom practice issue, there has been no issues at all, and from an IP score, I believe it will score high. But again, I think an IP attorney should advise anyone with that question.
The next question, “To what degree do the existing patents limit the possibility of someone creating adjacent methodology which could be competitive to yours?” Again, I think we addressed that question in the previous discussion, but I will just say it again quickly that I think there are going to be people who try to imitate what we’re doing. There are certainly technologies out there through companies like one is the German Company, APK, which uses a solvent to purify polyethylene. However, when you look at their technology compared to ours, we’re the only ones out there with pictures showing before and after of what we can purify. Meaning we can put black material in our process and bring out clear. We have not seen anybody else who can do that. We’re quite confident that our technology is unique, it’s novel, it has tremendous utility, and I think our IP estate protects us from somebody copying our process or anything close to it. But again, have an IP attorney confirm that for you.
Next question, “What other methods of recycling are known to achieve similar results? Are you aware of any other technologies on the horizon which could allow the recycling of PP to virgin-like quality?” There are technologies out there that are emerging. Circular economy movement, I think we’re in full swing of, as a society which is absolutely fantastic in my humble opinion. We do see a lot of investment. We see a lot of technologies. As I mentioned with APK, there are other solvent technologies.
There are also other non-solvent-based purification technologies like pyrolysis or gasification, where you can depolymerize polypropylene in pyrolysis process where you essentially break it into its constituent parts, you then purify that, you feed it into a cracker, you then make the monomers again, and then you can remake the plastic. These technologies work. They’ve been known since the 1960s.
Pyrolysis, gasification has been around for very long time. There’s a lot of coal gasification in the world used to make various petrochemical intermediates, so the idea of feeding coal, gas, fire with the waste plastic is getting well-known, and the same is true with pyrolysis. These technologies have proven that they can be used to take a complicated waste plastic and make purified materials.
I think the only thing to note here that’s important is these technologies are much more expensive from a capex and opex point of view. They’re also much more complex, so you can take polypropylene into one of these facilities, and the output is so called plastic waste-based naphtha or a plastic crude oil. That plastic-based crude oil needs to be run through several subsequent steps before it can be purified and then repolymerized.
A lot of these technologies also go from plastic to fuel. They’re not really recycling the plastic back to plastic, they’re recycling it to fuel. This really limits the number of claims or the type of claims that brand owners like P&G and others can make. Because technically, in a lot of geographies, pyrolysis or so-called chemical recycling is not counted as true material recycling.
So, to be able to classify as physical recycling, mechanical and the solvent-based processes do qualify. Meaning we can make claims that if you buy a pound or a kilo of polypropylene from PureCycle, you can claim that that’s 100% recycled content. When it comes to some of these alternative technologies like pyrolysis or gasification, you can’t make those claims. You can only claim that this material is made from recycled plastic.
You can only make those claims via a so-called mass balance accounting practice. The actual plastic you’re buying may not actually have any recycled content. But instead you’re just claiming solar or wind credits that the cracker was fed with a given amount of material, and by mass balance, I’m going to get a credit for that. And why this is challenging from a claims point-of-view is consumers are a little leery of making those types of claims. They may misinterpret that as greenwashing. They’re also concerned over the environmental consequence of that. That’s another important distinction to make that our technology, from an LCA point of view, I encourage you to look at the comparison between the LCA indicators in terms of energy usage and that sort of thing of our process compared to virgin, and you can see that ours is quite lower.
For those reasons, I think these technologies are out there. But I can definitely see a clear advantage of the solvent-based approach that you’re seeing with PureCycle. And there are, again, other companies out there who see the vision for solvent recycling as well. Not only PureCycle, there’s APK, as we mentioned, as well as for polystyrene, a different type of plastic, there’s also a company called Styra Solution working on solvent-based purification of polystyrene through a different process than what we’re doing. But certainly, again, showing that there’s tremendous interest in the plastics industry to adopt these solvent based purification approaches.
“If PureCycle doesn’t manage to ramp up, what options do companies have to reduce their virgin polypropylene usage? Is there a plan B?” I’d like to say there’s always a plan B and yes, we do have, obviously, as I just mentioned, pyrolysis can, although it’s a much less preferred option. It does provide an option, and it is being scaled by multiple parties in the plastic industry today. It is going to be a solution, whether it’s at a price point that the industry can afford, whether the LCA is as good as it could be for, that’s a different question. So for us, the technology invented by P&G and being commercialized by PureCycle would be something that we would put every effort at stake to ensure that we can get this technology scaled and off the ground and to a point where it can provide material to our business, because for us that’s the ultimate goal.
The next question, “Why is recycling polypropylene difficult? Technically, why have mechanical, chemical and other solutions been unsuccessful to date?” The first key word here is entropy, which is the physics principle that everything in the universe is going towards disarray and mixing, and plastics are complex. A lot of times people look at plastic and think it’s just a single material. In fact, pretty much all plastics are complicated composites of, of course, the plastic which is a polymeric material so polypropylene is the polymer of propylene monomer, and that material is then colorized with an additive system where pigments are introduced and that’s usually multiple materials.
In addition to that, you have whatever product contamination which may have come in contact with the polypropylene. We have things like pesticides, motor oil residues, of course perfumes, all sorts of stuff that can migrate into the plastic that have to be removed. Then another important aspect is plastics are contaminated with other plastics. It probably surprises many people that plastics are not easy to remove from other plastics. And due to all of those reasons, that’s why you see these processes and these technologies constantly being developed and requiring a lot of expertise to bring to life. Mechanical recycling, I should say, has developed tremendously. The mechanical ingenuity that’s gone into the municipal recovery facilities at the community level, there’s probably one operating in your community right now, where they can do some amazing things taking very complicated waste streams from a recycle bin and separate the plastic from the paper and then using infrared sortation to sort out different plastics. There has been a lot of technological development there.
And then I think when it comes to maybe some of the prior attempts at so-called chemical or other advanced recycling technologies, the world is constantly evolving, and I think the need is now to act. While you may have seen technologies a decade ago, we’re seeing a lot of legislative activity. We’re seeing a lot of voluntary commitments from companies like P&G and many other brand owners, and that’s actually a force for good. I think it’s creating a lot of incentive for companies to want to make these investments in materials. When they make those investments, they’re obviously supporting the technologies and getting those companies off the ground. And so, I think from the motivation by key stakeholders, from technological maturity, I think we’re at a good time to bring a lot of these technologies to life, whereas in the past, maybe they haven’t been.
The next one. I appreciate everyone’s persistence with me here. I know it’s probably a lot of questions and answer here. “Are there any technical features which you could make the recycled polypropylene unable to be used in certain applications? In this scenario, could you blend it with recycled polypropylene, or excuse me, with virgin polypropylene?”
The answer is yeah, there is always going to be technology features that, maybe you have an application that’s extremely sensitive and from a technology point of view, perhaps it’s best to ensure that you’re always using a virgin—a true virgin-like material on those applications, just so the consumer is absolutely assured that there is no risk of human toxic impurities in contact with sensitive areas of the body.
You could also make that claim for drug products where you have an application with very strict regulatory requirements, while we know that we can produce an extremely clean material with our process and likely pass those requirements, the risk to the business or the consumer may be such that the business chooses to go a different option when it comes to more sustainable packaging, maybe shifting to paper instead of plastic and so those things come into bear there.
Now, if you interpret this question in a mechanical context, the way to think about the PureCycle process is, we purify whatever goes in, in terms of mechanical properties, we get the same thing out minus the contamination. One would expect if you feed a given so-called melt flow index, which is the pragmatic way that we talk about the different types of polypropylenes, and think of it like 5W30 or 10W30 on motor oil, so we have different viscosity indexes for polypropylene and the viscosity indexes of the polypropylene feed-stock drive the viscosity indexes of the product. We can obviously blend either the feedstocks or the final products. But there could be applications where, just by the nature of our feedstock, we’re not getting the type of melt flow rate that a customer wants. In that scenario, certainly they could blend a virgin material with that recycled material to get the feedstock or to get the final properties that they need for that application.
From our experience at P&G, we’ve tested many different lots of the material from PureCycle’s process in Ironton, we find that in a lot of our applications, the use of polypropylene is so robust that we can replace a 10 melt flow index with a 20. And so, let’s say we’re using a 10 for virgin and a 20 for the recycled, in a lot of our applications, that substitution is just fine. But I can understand that some customers, they can’t, you know, change from 10 to 10.1. They’ve got a very strict requirement for that polypropylene and in that scenario, I would expect that, again, they could blend at 50/75, you know, very high percentages, but kind of titrating our material in to meet their properties.
“One customer spoke about needing additives to achieve co-polymer like quality polypropylene. Was this expected? Is there any way to fix this? What would this mean for the recycling loop?” Similar to the last question, if you think about our process as, you feed it in, it’s whatever the properties of that fed polypropylene are, then it’s purified and whatever the properties of that purified polypropylene are going to be, are dependent on the feed-stock.
There’s a lot of, there’s three main types of polypropylene: there’s homo-polymer polypropylene, there’s so-called random co-polymer polypropylene where ethylene is randomly co-polymerized at about 7% ethylene, 93% polypropylene and then there’s impact co-polymer polypropylene, which is usually a so called heterophasic where you have rubber domains inter-disbursed in the polypropylene an if we received any one of those three as a large enough feed-stock, we could actually campaign each of those individually and produce a purified, clean, clear product out of each one of those plastics.
Now, when we, when we look at the types of feed-stocks that we’re getting now for our first facility, a lot of those are homo-polymer and a lot of our feed-stock evaluation unit test and the FEU in Ironton had been with homo-polymer. And so, we, our first products are declared homo-polymers. If a customer is testing it in a co-polymer application where they need, say, impact strength, which is common for like cold weather applications or drop applications, then they may have to blend in a rubber additive at 5% to 10% with our material to ensure they can meet that impact specification.
Again, to me, this is a very logical thing to do. A lot of the polypropylene industry today, they blend in rubbers with virgin. So, they would treat our material like virgin, blend in the rubber that’s needed to meet the application need and that would be pretty normal. In terms of this specific loop question, you know if that same rubber material was brought back to our PureCycle, and again, we could aggregate that at a scale to where we can campaign it, we would run that material with our process and produce you know co-polymer product.
Next question, “Are there any known technical limitations to the number of cycles that polypropylene or recycled polypropylene can undergo without deterioration?” This is a really good question. In fact, there is. Anytime you put any polymer through a heat cycle where you’re melting in an extruder or you’re converting it in an injection molding machine, and say, into a part, there’s always a little bit degradation to the polymer. However, practically when we’ve looked at different cycles, it takes a long time before it makes a meaningful difference in the physical properties of the part and moreover, when you look at the recycling industry today only about 10% of plastic is recycled, and that’s going to mean that essentially it’s very, at the beginning, I would say, for the next decade or two decades, it’s how polypropylene recycling rates get very high, you know on the order of 50%-plus, which would be an exciting milestone to hit, I should say. There’s always going to be, you know, essentially you know, polypropylene that’s been only through a few cycles going through the process.
The other thing I wanted to mention is our technology and on the steps in our process will actually remove any degraded polypropylene from the process. So, let’s say there was a material that’s gone through, I don’t know, 30 different cycles in its lifetime and there were degraded residues, these would actually be extracted out by our process. It wouldn’t affect the final properties of the polypropylene, but rather, it would obviously slightly reduce the yield of the process because this degraded material would have to be removed.
The next one, “In the Leidos report, which is the independent engineer’s report, it states that there are four quality parameters: color, opacity, melt flow index, and odor. Why are there are no mechanical strength parameters, for example, Young’s modulus, given the produced polymer undergoes rounds of heat pressure, chemicals solvents during the PureCycle process? How do mechanical strength properties compare to virgin?” That’s a very a good question.
The reason we fixate first on color, opacity, melt flow index and odor is we believe those are the key to making the declaration that we’re producing virgin-like material. So, we need to be able to get the color down to where it’s not yellow. You have to get the opacity to a point where you can claim it’s as transparent or translucent as virgin. The melt flow index is really one of the key parameters that affects everything because its, the melt flow index drives all the other mechanical properties. And then odor, I think, is intuitive here, but we obviously want to make sure that any, you know, especially malodorous things are removed from the plastic.
“Why don’t we declare a specification of the Young’s modulus?” Well actually, we will, but it’ll be a function of our product portfolio. So, as we discussed previously, the melt flow index which is, again, a pragmatic way to measure the viscosity of the material, is what is used to calculate or predict the physical properties of the final polypropylene. And if you have a 5 melt flow index polypropylene or a 50 melt flow index polypropylene, the Young’s modulus, the flexural modulus, many of the other physical mechanical properties are going to be a function of that melt flow rate. For us, as we develop products based on feedstocks, we will declare on our technical data sheets exactly what melt flow index we’re making, and then what is the range of Young’s modulus, flexural modulus, impact strength. All of those things will be a function of what feedstocks we actually produce.
When you look at some of our initial lots, we’ve actually developed technical data sheets for those initial lots and any customer getting a sample actually would receive a technical datasheet for that lot and for that product so they would know what the range to expect is.
“Then how do the properties compare to virgin?” The great news is if you make a 10-melt flow polypropylene from our process, meaning you’re recycling a 10 melt flow feedstock, and you compare that to a 10 melt flow virgin, it’s virtually indistinguishable. It’s basically the same thing. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. What we find is that the polypropylene we make is, of course, very high purity from our purification process. But at the end of the day, it’s like the most not special, special thing in the world. At the end of the day, it’s just polypropylene and it behaves and functions mechanically just like polypropylene should.
The penultimate question here, “How critical is the quality of the feedstock? Can the process handle 85% pure or lower, versus 90% purity, if feedstock providers run into issues?” Actually, from a technical point of view, the process and the technology can handle, you know, feedstocks with 1% polypropylene. It’s just a function of techno-economics that we have to keep the purity high. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve taken a used dirty diaper and when I say used, I mean, used, all of the glory in it, and we can purify that and that has a lot of—diapers have a lot of extra stuff beyond the bio-burden. There’s a lot of different materials, there’s glues, adhesives so from a technology point of view, we’re extremely robust.
The reason we have a specification of 85%, 90% plus is if you put these materials into the process, and let’s say, we had a 50% feedstock, you’re putting a lot of energy and effort into melting, starting to do steps to the process, but that material is ultimately not generating revenue. And so we want to ensure that if we can mechanically enrich materials from our mechanical steps in advance of the solvent process, that we do that so that we are left with the best likelihood of, you know, high-profit process, where you know every material that’s going in is as efficient as possible in terms of feedstock contamination.
If, however, a material does end up being, let’s say a truck shows up, it’s expected to have 90% but instead it has 85%. The process and the technology can cope with those higher amounts of contamination. Again, it will just ultimately reduce the throughput for that moment in time at which the higher, more taxing feedstock is being run through the process and the technology.
The last question, and thanks for hanging in there with me, “Why did you choose an alkane solvent and why don’t other solvents pose a threat to the IP portfolio?” Great question. Alkane solvents have a very special property that we’ve taken advantage of when it comes to thermodynamic properties. We use something called the low critical solution temperature, or interpreted differently, it’s called a cloud point, where we can operate our particular alkane solvent, like a Goldilocks solvent, where we can get the polymer to behave in two different, distinct ways. One where it’s not soluble so that we can extract it; the other where it is soluble where we can filter it. The magic is that we can do that with one solvent. That’s the reason we’ve chosen the solvent that we have.
I won’t get into maybe the esoteric details of why that particular solvent works that way, but I can tell you that from an IP portfolio, we actually have a plurality of alkane solvents and mixtures that could be used. It’s both our IP position as well as our know-how on selecting the solvent that we have that’s beneficial for our process in terms of getting the most efficiencies out of every unit operation and getting the process to achieve the quality that we’re excited that we can achieve in terms of going in black and coming out clear. To us, that’s an important part of that, is the selection of the solvent. As I mentioned in previous questions, there’s, there have been previous patents around the use of solvents to purify polypropylene.
An example was a patent from Germany where they were using gasoline. So, imagine taking gasoline from your pump and using that to dissolve and purify polypropylene. First of all, it doesn’t work anywhere as well as ours. The plastic ends up having a gasoline odor, which you can imagine is dreadful. There have been other solvents that are used that have been contemplated in the industry as well. High-boiling solvents like xylene or toluene, if they don’t have the special thermodynamic property, where, again, I call it the Goldilocks, where we can tune the solubility and be able to extract and then dissolve and we think that’s extremely important to achieving the type of process and the quality of the product coming out of that process.
Like I said, we have patented various iterations of different solvents at different conditions that we think the position from our IP point-of-view is quite broad. But as with all IP questions, if it’s a serious concern, I recommend that you reach out to an intellectual property attorney where they can review our IP filings against perhaps other solvent-based IP filings. But again, my technical and humble opinion as the primary author on this patent is that it’s quite robust.
So that concludes the Q&A that was addressed and put together by the team. I want to thank you for your enthusiasm and your listening to this video in its entirety. We appreciate your interest in our project. Thank you and have a great day.
This transcript of a November 1, 2020 video presentation represents answers to a series of technical questions presented by PureCycle Technologies LLC to Dr. John Layman, the scientist who invented the technology. PureCycle has reviewed these answers and concurs with the views presented herein. However, this interview should not be construed as either Dr. Layman or Procter & Gamble providing an opinion on any investment decision. This transcript has been prepared by ViaVid who has made considerable efforts to provide an accurate transcription. There may be material errors, omissions, or inaccuracies in the reporting of the substance of the conference call. This transcript is being made available for information purposes only. 15