PET bottles can’t fuel the circular apparel economy alone. Closing the loop means we need to recycle apparel – and lots of it. Demeto might be part of the answer.
Demeto is a European Project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme based on gr3n SA technology. Using a pioneering microwave-based alkaline hydrolisys, Demeto aims to demonstrate how this new process can be used to chemically recycle PET – rapidly, sustainably, and economically.
Following successful demonstrations in the lab and later through a pilot project, Demeto is at the time of writing commissioning a demo plant located in Chieti, Italy.
Why it matters?
Most PET-waste streams destined for recycling are currently treated by mechanical processes that are limited to processing single-polymer feedstocks such as PET bottles. The result is a low total recycling rate, and the majority of textile downcycled.
To properly close the loop, meanwhile, the textile industry will need to recycle old garments into new added-value products. The problem is that apparel largely contains either mixed fibers or various treatments that mechanical methods cannot separate and can therefore not recycle. Lacking an economically feasible alternative path, the most common end-of-life solution for these garments is the landfill or incinerator.
Gr3n’s Head of Marketing and Business Development Dr. Fabio Silvestri explains how the technology will provide a new end-of-life scenario to apparel:
“Demeto’s goal is to change the economic equation and does so by first shredding packaging and apparel made of at least 70% polyester. From here, the shreds are then fed into a reactor where a novel microwave assisted process rapidly depolymerizes the feedstock down to the molecular level. Next, a repolymerization process is followed by a spinning process that results in polyester fibers with the same characteristics as the one made from virgin polyester.”
What are the results?
Demeto is running a range of collaborations within a consortium consisting of 13 partners: 3Vtech, DTU -Technical University of Denmark -,European Outdoor Group, The Fricke and Mallah GmbH, H&M, NeoGroup, NextChem, Petcia, Recuprenda, Spindox, Supsi, Synesis.. A number of the European Outdoor Group brand member are currently supplying feedstock to the project, and soon they will employing its recycled fibers into their products on a pilot basis to “pressure test” this circular model by identifying and overcoming its weaknesses.
Thus far, the demo plant is expected to work with 500 kg per batch once in full operation. Based on the results of this demo plant, the plan is to then construct the first industrial-scale plant that can chemically recycle PET using the microwave process in order to treat approximately 120 tonnes of feedstock per day.
In light of the multiple issues affecting PET value chains, Fabio Silvestri sees Demeto has a promising future:
“Demeto is the demonstration that gr3n’s technology can provide a solution to current problems that arise from the continual down-cycling of PET rather than creating added-value products, the exposure of PET value chains to market trends in oil and gas, and not least the environmental impact of PET waste.”
Photos: Demeto/ gr3n SA