Start-up Crymirotech tackles complex non-recycled plastics

20 March 2024

The greentech startup specializing in chemical recycling aims to become a pioneer in the recycling of complex plastics thanks to its ionic depolymerization technology. It has already launched the construction of its first semi-industrial demonstrator in the Hauts-de-France region.

In France, 99% of plastics are still recycled mechanically. This technology involves sorting, crushing, washing and extruding plastics, then reintroducing them into a production cycle. This mature technology has the advantage of being relatively economical, with a recycling yield of between 70% and 80% depending on the input. It does, however, have its limitations. It produces materials of lesser quality than the initial materials, and does not eliminate potential pollutants (NIAS, Non-intentionally added substances). Above all, not all types of plastic can be recycled, especially the more complex ones. As a result, some of these materials are incinerated.

In recent years, chemical recycling technologies have emerged as a solution for these materials. Through pyrolysis, hydrolysis, gasification or enzymatic processes, chemical recycling technologies can “transform” plastics to produce monomers. These monomers can then be re-used by manufacturers, facilitating the use of closed-loop plastics. Start-up Crymirotech is one such player. The startup founded in 2019 has developed a catalyst in the form of ionic liquids that can “depolymerize” the most complex plastics in a single process step.

From algae to polymers

Surprisingly, it was at EADS Innovation Works, a former Airbus Group department, that the start-up founder cut his teeth. “At the time, I was working on the production of bio-jet fuel from algae. I realized that you had to cultivate very large areas to succeed in producing sufficient quantities of fuel. But I was able to develop a skill in molecule production, which I sought to apply to other sectors,” explains Maxime Lépinay. The waste sector proved to be a logical candidate, since its players do not know how to recycle certain complex plastics at controlled costs.

The engineer has adapted his own process to this new sector, developing an ionic solution capable of breaking any polymer chain. Depending on the formulation, Crymirotech’s catalysts can recycle thermoset plastics, foams, resins, multi-layer waste and additives. The end products are monomers such as ethylene, propylene, styrene…this return to the initial brick potentially enables manufacturers to re-introduce recycled primary raw materials into a closed-loop production cycle. As a bonus, the energy cost of the process is limited. “The production of plastics from monomers obtained via our recycling solution is up to 65% more energy-efficient than conventional production,” stresses Maxime Lépinay. What’s more, the process saves around 2 tonnes of water per tonne of monomer produced, and the solvents used can be recovered at the end of the process.

A semi-industrial pilot line by 2024

The start-up aims to offer a complementary technology to mechanical recycling, in particular to enable the recycling of plastics still excluded from current channels. ” We’re going to work on ‘sorting refusals’, such as multi-layer plastics,” explains Maxime Lépinay. This technology and positioning have attracted the attention of specialized climate funds. In 2023, Crymirotech raised 300,000 euros from Team for the Planet to further develop its technology. Currently, the ion recycling technology is at a TRL of 7, close to the industrial stage, thanks to the construction of a first semi-industrial line which will be operational this year. This is the first step towards the installation of a fully-operated industrial line in 2027. The aim is to recycle between 5,000 and 10,000 tonnes of plastic per year. In the meantime, the start-up plans to install more compact, modular units for waste processing sites. A second round of fund-raising this year should enable the company to move towards this milestone.

Start-up Crymirotech tackles complex non-recycled plastics
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