BASF Ludwigshafen

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The BASF feedstock recycling process was designed to handle mixed plastic waste, as supplied by the DSD (Duales System Deutschland) green dot packaging collection system. A large pilot plant, with a substantial capacity of 15000 tonne/yr, was started up in Ludwigshafen in 1994. At that time DSD estimated the total volume of mixed packaging plastics available for feedstock recycling at around 750 000 ton/yr. BASF offered to erect a full-scale industrial plant with a capacity of 300000 ton/yr, but decided in 1996 to shut down the pilot plant, since no agreement could be reached on a guaranteed long-term waste supply and a gate fee sufficient to cover the costs.

In the BASF process, plastic waste is converted into petrochemical products in a three-stage process. Before feeding, the plastics are shredded, freed from other materials and agglomerated, to improve handling and enhance the density. In the first stage, the plastics are melted and liquefied in an agitated tank. The gaseous hydrochloric acid, evolving from PVC at temperatures up to 300°C, is absorbed in a water washer, and further processed to aqueous hydrochloric acid, to be reused in other BASF production plants.

In a second stage, the plastic oil was fed into a tubular cracker reactor, heated at over 400°C and thus cracked into compounds of different chain lengths, forming petrochemical raw materials. The oils and gases thus obtained are separated in a third stage, resulting in the production of naphtha, aromatic fractions, and high-boiling oils. About 20-30% of gases and 60-70% of oils are produced and subsequently separated in a distillation column.

Figure 1.1 Schematic representation of the BASF pyrolysis process. (Reproduced by permission of TNO)

Figure 1.1 Schematic representation of the BASF pyrolysis process. (Reproduced by permission of TNO)

The naphtha produced by the feedstock process is treated in a steam cracker, and the monomers (e.g. ethylene, propylene, butadiene) are recovered. These raw materials are then used for the production of virgin plastic materials. High-boiling oils can be processed into synthesis gas or conversion coke and then be transferred for further use. All these products have outlets in the local BASF production plants.

During two years of trial operation, the pilot plant demonstrated its suitability. Although the process can be considered proven, it is at present neither used by BASF, nor elsewhere in Germany, because the quantities of plastic waste and dump fee needed for the plant to be economically viable are not available in Germany (Figure 1.1). The process products are:

  • HCl, which is either neutralized, or processed in a hydrochloric acid production plant;
  • naphtha to be converted into monomers in a steam cracker;
  • various monomers, which can be used for the production of virgin plastic materials;
  • high-boiling oils, to be processed into synthesis gas or conversion coke;
  • process residues, consisting typically of 5% minerals and metals, e.g. pigments or aluminium can lids.

Processing plastic waste by the BASF process would have required a gate fee of 160€/tonne for a plant with a capacity of 300000 tonne/yr and a fee of 250€/tonne for a plant capacity of 150000 tonne/yr [15].

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