The hub will combine advanced sorting and recycling operations to address the plastic waste challenge. Photo courtesy of LYB

Houston-based chemical company LyondellBasell has signed a land lease agreement for a new integrated plastic waste recycling hub by an existing industrial park in Knapsack, Germany.

The agreement is with YNCORIS, a German industrial service provider. The hub will combine advanced sorting and recycling operations to address the plastic waste challenge and the company hopes it will grow the circular economy.

The first phase of the project will see the construction of an advanced sorting facility, which will process mixed plastic waste that can produce feedstock for mechanical and advanced recycling, since this mixed plastic waste is not recycled and usually sent to incineration for energy recovery. The hub's initial advanced sorting facility expects to start operations in the first quarter of 2026. The large facility will cover an area equivalent to 20 soccer fields.

"The industrial park in Knapsack is the ideal location for our integrated hub as is it close to our world-scale facilities in Wesseling and will allow us to develop additional technologies for the recycling of plastic waste," Yvonne van der Laan, LyondellBasell's executive vice president of circular and low carbon solutions, says in a news release. "The integration of various technologies will allow us to build scale and offer our customers a wide range of products from recycled and renewable resources."

In April, LyondellBasell also secured 208 megawatts of renewable energy capacity from a solar park in Germany. Under the 12-year deal, LyondellBasell aim s to purchase about 210 gigawatt-hours of solar power each year from Germany-based Encavis Asset Management.

By 2030, LyondellBasell hopes to produce and market at least 2 million metric tons of recycled and renewable‑based polymers annually.

The plan is to operate the newly-acquired mechanical recycling plant in California to manufacture post-consumer recycled resins using plastic waste feedstock. Photo courtesy of LyondellBasell

LyondellBasell acquires California plastics recycling operations

seeing green

LyondellBasell has made a strategic acquisition of a plastics recycling facility.

The Houston-based company acquired the mechanical recycling assets containing rigid plastics recycling processing lines from recycling and waste management service provider PreZero. With the acquisition, LyondellBasell gains the processing facility in Jurupa Valley, California, with a production capacity of 50 million pounds per year for recycled materials.

The plan is to operate the newly-acquired mechanical recycling plant in California to manufacture post-consumer recycled resins using plastic waste feedstock, according to LyondellBasell. LyondellBasell aims to use recycled polymers under its CirculenRecover brand, which is part of the company's Circulen portfolio of products that enable the circular economy.

"This acquisition further strengthens our U.S. presence and will deliver value for our customers and plastic recycling rates in the West Coast," Yvonne van der Laan, LyondellBasell executive vice president, Circular and Low Carbon Solutions, says in a news release. "We will build upon our existing experience in plastic recycling in Europe and deliver a state-of-the-art, mechanical recycling facility to meet growing demand for recycled products in the U.S."

In 2025, LyondellBasell expects to finish the operations at its new facility.

With the previously announced equity stake in the Cyclyx joint venture and investment in the Cyclyx Circularity Center in Houston, the latest transaction hopes to enhance the competitiveness in the U.S. recycled products market.

University of Houston students Sarah Grace Kimberly and Emma Nicholas won UH Energy Transition Institute's inaugural Circular Plastics Challenge. Photo via UH.edu

Inaugural Houston challenge names winning team with plastics solution

first place

Dozens of Houston college students tackled circular economy challenges, and two came out on top by winning the top award.

University of Houston’s Energy Transition Institute hosted a challenge for students to address the issue of plastic waste and create a real-world circular economy, as over 60 students participated in the inaugural Circular Plastics Challenge.

Six finalist teams presented their solutions at the 2023 Energy Night hosted by the UH Energy Coalition with final pitches ranging from transportation emissions, renewable packaging and sustainable material, drones to limit excess packaging, and more topics aimed to reduce use.

Sarah Grace Kimberly and Emma Nicholas were the challenge winners. The team proposed using a liquid-based membrane filter inserted into household drains to combat microplastics found in common personal care products, such as makeup and hygiene items. The membrane’s function would act as a magnet, which would attract and capture microplastics from wastewater in showers and sinks. Both juniors from the C.T. Bauer College of Business also won the viewer’s choice award from their peers.

“We wanted to provide a simple solution to a growing problem,” Kimberly says in a news release. “Before we did this project, we didn’t know that microplastics existed, let alone in our makeup. I didn’t know I was basically putting plastic on my face every single day and washing it off into our drains. Because it’s an unseen problem, it’s hard to address.”

UH’s ETI is an academic research institute that focuses on advancing environmentally responsible energy efforts.

“If you look at the wide variety of proposals and approaches, you can see the complexity of the problem and all the different things that society must consider to find solutions,” ETI Founding Executive Director Joe Powell says in the release. “I think circularity in plastics and chemicals is as difficult to address as the net-zero issue within the energy sector, if not more. We have a unique opportunity here to tackle both, and it’s really great to see our students thinking ahead.

Other finalists included Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship seniors Nicolas Einarsson, Bennett Mainini, Arianna Chavarria, and Fernanda Ruelas, who secured second place with their renewable packaging company presentation titled “ShipSafe.”

Reverse Logistics — with team members Hasti Seraji, Farzane Ezzati, and Haowei Yang — earned third place for their consumer-driven reverse logistics approach to recycling packaging.

LYB is building its first industrial-scale catalytic advanced recycling demonstration plant at its site in Germany. Photo via lyondellbasell.com

Global chemicals co. with Houston HQ to build industrial-scale recycling plant in Germany

seeing green

This month, LyondellBasell has announced it has officially pulled the trigger on a new recycling plant in Germany.

Dutch chemicals leader LYB, as the company has rebranded recently, has made its final investment decision to build its first industrial-scale catalytic advanced recycling demonstration plant at its site in Wesseling, Germany.

The project is reported to be the first "commercial scale, single-train advanced recycling plant to convert post-consumer plastic waste into feedstock for production of new plastic materials that can be ran at net zero GHG emissions," per LYB's news release.

The plant will utilize LYB's MoReTec technology, which targets difficult to recycle plastics like mixed or flexible materials, and have an annual capacity of 50,000 tonnes per year. The amount expected to be recycled annually will equal plastic packaging waste generated by over 1.2 million German citizens per year.

"We are committed to addressing the global challenge of plastic waste and advancing a circular economy, and today's announcement is another meaningful step in that direction," says Peter Vanacker, LYB CEO, in the release. "Scaling up our catalytic advanced recycling technology will allow us to return larger volumes of plastic waste back into the value chain. By doing this, we will have the ability to produce more materials for high-quality applications, retaining value of plastics for as long as possible."

The plant's construction is anticipated to be done by the end of 2025. The majority of the sorted processed feedstock will be supplied by Source One Plastics, a joint venture of LYB and 23 Oaks Investments that formed in October 2022.

A few weeks ago, LYB purchased a 25 percent stake in a joint venture that seeks to accelerate advancements in plastic recycling. The joint venture, Cyclyx International, was formed in 2020 by Spring-based energy giant ExxonMobil and Tigard, Oregon-based plastic recycling innovator Agilyx.

In 2022, Cyclyx announced it had inked a deal with ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell to develop a first-of-its-kind plastic waste sorting and processing plant in the Houston area. The estimated $100 million facility, set to open in 2024, is poised to annually produce 330 million pounds of plastic feedstock, which is made up of recycled materials that can be used to manufacture new plastics.

LyondellBasell bought into a joint venture, Cyclyx International, that was formed in 2020 by Spring-based energy giant ExxonMobil and Tigard, Oregon-based plastic recycling innovator Agilyx. Photo courtesy ExxonMobil

Houston energy company buys in on plastic recycling

Cyclyx secured

Dutch chemical company LyondellBasell, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston, has purchased a 25 percent stake in a joint venture that seeks to accelerate advancements in plastic recycling.

The joint venture, Cyclyx International, was formed in 2020 by Spring-based energy giant ExxonMobil and Tigard, Oregon-based plastic recycling innovator Agilyx.

In 2022, Cyclyx announced it had inked a deal with ExxonMobil and LyondellBasell to develop a first-of-its-kind plastic waste sorting and processing plant in the Houston area. The estimated $100 million facility, set to open in 2024, is poised to annually produce 330 million pounds of plastic feedstock, which is made up of recycled materials that can be used to manufacture new plastics.

“Investing in plastic waste value chain experts such as Cyclyx, together with Agilyx and ExxonMobil, helps create the robust supply chains we all need to increase access to circular and renewable feedstocks,” Yvonne van der Laan, executive vice president of LyondellBasell, says in a news release.

In conjunction with the LyondellBasell announcement, Cyclyx says it’s expanding the licensing-only model for its recycling centers to add a “build, own, and operate” option. Cyclyx says this shift will enable it to control custom-blended feedstocks from sourcing through delivery.

Last year, Cyclyx revealed it had completed a pilot project for grocery store chain Food Lion.

At the outset of the project, plastic waste at certain Food Lion stores was collected for recycling. Cyclyx then sorted and pre-processed the waste before sending it to ExxonMobil’s recycling facility in Baytown. In Baytown, ExxonMobil used its Exxtend technology for advanced recycling to create new “virgin quality” plastics and other products.

ExxonMobil says the Baytown facility, which began operating in 2021, can process more than 80 million pounds of plastic waste per year. The company says the Exxtend technology it uses there breaks down hard-to-recycle plastic waste — such as synthetic athletic fields, bubble wrap, and motor oil bottles — that previously would have headed to landfills.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

US wants details on Tesla's fix from recalled automated driving system

looking under the hood

Federal highway safety investigators want Austin-based Tesla to tell them how and why it developed the fix in a recall of more than 2 million vehicles equipped with the company's Autopilot partially automated driving system.

Investigators with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have concerns about whether the recall remedy worked because Tesla has reported 20 crashes since the remedy was sent out as an online software update in December.

The recall fix also was to address whether Autopilot should be allowed to operate on roads other than limited access highways. The fix for that was increased warnings to the driver on roads with intersections.

But in a letter to Tesla posted on the agency's website Tuesday, investigators wrote that they could not find a difference between warnings to the driver to pay attention before the recall and after the new software was released. The agency said it will evaluate whether driver warnings are adequate, especially when a driver-monitoring camera is covered.

The agency asked for volumes of information about how Tesla developed the fix, and zeroed in on how it used human behavior to test the recall effectiveness.

Phil Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies automated driving safety, said the letter shows that the recall did little to solve problems with Autopilot and was an attempt to pacify NHTSA, which demanded the recall after more than two years of investigation.

“It’s pretty clear to everyone watching that Tesla tried to do the least possible remedy to see what they could get away with,” Koopman said. “And NHTSA has to respond forcefully or other car companies will start pushing out inadequate remedies.”

Safety advocates have long expressed concern that Autopilot, which can keep a vehicle in its lane and a distance from objects in front of it, was not designed to operate on roads other than limited access highways.

Missy Cummings, a professor of engineering and computing at George Mason University who studies automated vehicles, said NHTSA is responding to criticism from legislators for a perceived lack of action on automated vehicles.

“As clunky as our government is, the feedback loop is working,” Cummings said. “I think the NHTSA leadership is convinced now that this is a problem.”

The 18-page NHTSA letter asks how Tesla used human behavior science in designing Autopilot, and the company's assessment of the importance of evaluating human factors.

It also wants Tesla to identify every job involved in human behavior evaluation and the qualifications of the workers. And it asks Tesla to say whether the positions still exist.

A message was left by The Associated Press early Tuesday seeking comment from Tesla about the letter.

Tesla is in the process of laying off about 10% of its workforce, about 14,000 people, in an effort to cut costs to deal with falling global sales.

Cummings said she suspects that CEO Elon Musk would have laid off anyone with human behavior knowledge, a key skill needed to deploy partially automated systems like Autopilot, which can't drive themselves and require humans to be ready to intervene at all times.

“If you're going to have a technology that depends upon human interaction, you better have someone on your team that knows what they are doing in that space,” she said.

Cummings said her research has shown that once a driving system takes over steering from humans, there is little left for the human brain to do. Many drivers tend to overly rely on the system and check out.

“You can have your head fixed in one position, you can potentially have your eyes on the road, and you can be a million miles away in your head,” she said. “All the driver monitoring technologies in the world are still not going to force you to pay attention.”

In its letter, NHTSA also asks Tesla for information about how the recall remedy addresses driver confusion over whether Autopilot has been turned off if force is put on the steering wheel. Previously, if Autopilot was de-activated, drivers might not notice quickly that they have to take over driving.

The recall added a function that gives a “more pronounced slowdown” to alert drivers when Autopilot has been disengaged. But the recall remedy doesn’t activate the function automatically — drivers have to do it. Investigators asked how many drivers have taken that step.

NHTSA is asking Telsa “What do you mean you have a remedy and it doesn’t actually get turned on?” Koopman said.

The letter, he said, shows NHTSA is looking at whether Tesla did tests to make sure the fixes actually worked. “Looking at the remedy I struggled to believe that there’s a lot of analysis proving that these will improve safety,” Koopman said.

The agency also says Tesla made safety updates after the recall fix was sent out, including an attempt to reduce crashes caused by hydroplaning and to reduce collisions in high speed turn lanes. NHTSA said it will look at why Tesla didn't include the updates in the original recall.

NHTSA could seek further recall remedies, make Tesla limit where Autopilot can work, or even force the company to disable the system until it is fixed, safety experts said.

NHTSA began its Autopilot investigation in 2021, after receiving 11 reports that Teslas using Autopilot struck parked emergency vehicles. In documents explaining why the investigation was ended due to the recall, NHTSA said it ultimately found 467 crashes involving Autopilot resulting in 54 injuries and 14 deaths.

Houston expert on why companies are investing in sustainable energy technology

guest column

In a modern business landscape characterized by increasing uncertainty and volatility, energy resilience has emerged as a cornerstone of strategic decision-making.

Let's delve deeper into why executives should view energy resilience as one of the best risk management investments they can make.

Mitigating risks and enhancing stability

Investing in energy resilience isn't solely about averting risks; it's about mitigating the potential losses that could arise from energy-related disruptions. It is estimated that half of today’s businesses lack an effective resilience strategy, even though nearly 97 percent of companies have been impacted by a critical risk event.

Whether it's power outages from extreme weather events, grid emergencies from a changing resource mix that is more weather dependent or cyber-attacks, disruptions can inflict substantial financial and reputational damage on businesses. By implementing resilient energy infrastructure and practices, organizations can minimize the impact of such disruptions, ensuring consistent operations even in the face of adversity. As an added benefit, these investments can also contribute to enhancing the stability of our grid infrastructure, benefiting not just individual businesses but the local community and the entire economy.

Improving costs and operational efficiency

Energy resilience also isn't just a defensive strategy; it's also about optimizing costs and operational efficiency to create competitive advantage. By investing in resilient energy infrastructure, such as backup power systems and microgrids, businesses can reduce the downtime associated with energy disruptions, thus avoiding revenue losses and operational inefficiencies.

Additionally, resilient energy solutions often lead to long-term cost savings through increased energy efficiency and reduced reliance on costly backup systems. As circumstances become increasingly uncertain, businesses that prioritize energy resilience can gain a competitive edge by operating more efficiently and cost-effectively than their counterparts.

Ensuring consistent operations amidst uncertainty

In today's rapidly changing business environment, characterized by geopolitical tensions, climate change, and technological advancements, uncertainty has become the new normal. Amidst this uncertainty, ensuring consistent operations is paramount for business continuity and long-term success. Investing in energy resilience provides businesses with the assurance that they can maintain operations even in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Whether it's a sudden power outage from a storm or the grid is stressed and unable to deliver reliable power, resilient energy infrastructure enables organizations to adapt swiftly and continue delivering products and services to customers without interruption.

Enhancing sustainability efforts

In recent years, a growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental stewardship has led to organizations recognizing the importance of reducing their carbon footprint and transitioning towards cleaner, renewable energy sources. Investing in energy resilience provides an opportunity to align sustainability efforts with business objectives.

By integrating renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient practices into their resilience strategies, organizations can not only enhance their environmental performance but also achieve long-term cost savings, ensure regulatory compliance, and build stakeholder trust.

The value of energy resilience for businesses

It is not enough to successfully handle day-to-day operations anymore; organizations need to be prepared for unpredictable events with a reliable energy supply and backup plan. Recently, a hospital in Texas had to evacuate patients and experienced heavy financial losses due to the failure of their traditional diesel generators during an extended outage.

After reevaluating their resiliency strategy, they decided to implement full-facility backup power using Enchanted Rock’s dual-purpose managed microgrid solution, which kept their power on during the next outage and ensured both patient safety and full operational capabilities. Investing in an energy resilience strategy like a microgrid will mitigate these risks and ensure always-on power in times of uncertainty.

A responsible decision for the greater good

Beyond the immediate benefits to individual businesses, investing in energy resilience is also a responsible decision for the greater good. As businesses become increasingly reliant on the grid infrastructure, ensuring its resilience is essential for the stability and reliability of the entire energy ecosystem. By proactively investing in resilient energy solutions, for themselves, businesses also contribute to strengthening the grid infrastructure, reducing the risk of widespread outages, and promoting the overall resilience of the energy system.

Executives must recognize the strategic imperative of investing in resilient energy infrastructure like microgrid systems, which can provide a competitive advantage against organizations that do not have similar measures in place. In doing so, they can navigate uncertainty with confidence, set their business up for future success, and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.

———

Ken Cowan is the senior vice president of Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based provider of microgrid technology.

Houston company plans to install the first commercial direct lithium extraction plant in the US

coming soon

Houston-based International Battery Metals, whose technology offers an eco-friendly way to extract lithium compounds from brine, is installing what it’s billing as the world’s first commercial modular direct-lithium extraction plant.

The mobile facility is located at US Magnesium’s operations outside Salt Lake City. The plant, expected to go online later this year, will process brine produced from lithium-containing waste-magnesium salts. The resulting lithium chloride product will provide feedstock for high-purity lithium carbonate generated by US Magnesium.

Under its agreement with US Magnesium, International Battery Metals (IBAT) will receive royalties on lithium sales, as well as payments for equipment operations based on lithium prices and performance.

IBAT says its patented technology is the only system that delivers a 97 percent extraction rate for lithium chloride from brine water, with up to 98 percent of water recycled and with minimal use of chemicals.

“Commercial operations will serve growing lithium demand from automakers for electric vehicle batteries, as well as energy storage batteries to support growing electricity demand and to balance the grid from increased renewable energy integration,” IBAT says in a news release.

Initially, the less than three-acre plant will annually produce 5,000 metric tons of lithium chloride. The modular plant was fabricated in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“Our commercial operations with US Mag will advance a productive lithium extraction operation,” says Garry Flowers, CEO of IBAT. “Given current lithium demand, supply dependence on China, and permitting challenges, our expected commercial operations are coming at an ideal time to produce lithium at scale in the U.S.”

IBAT says the technology has been validated by independent reviewers and has been tested in Texas, California, Michigan, Ohio, and Oklahoma, as well as Argentina, Canada, Chile, and Germany.

IBAT says its modular concept positions the company to be a key supplier for rising U.S. lithium demand, providing an alternative to China and other global suppliers.

John Burba, founder, CTO and director of IBAT, says the modular extraction technology “will be the basis of future lithium extraction from brine resources around the world.”