Co-founder and CEO of Pyrowave
While working as an adjunct professor at Polytechnique Montreal, which is an engineering school affiliated with Universite de Montreal in Quebec, Jocelyn Doucet researched converting waste and biomass into energy. About a decade ago, he and a team of researchers at the university developed technology that uses microwaves to break down molecules into their original components.
Doucet says resource efficiency always has been important to him, and he describes himself as somewhat of an entrepreneur. Therefore, in 2014, he launched Pyrowave to focus on recycling plastic scrap using the catalytic microwave depolymerization technology he helped to develop. Jean-Philippe Laviolette, one of his research partners at Polytechnique Montreal, teamed up with Doucet to co-found the new business venture.
“We can’t expect that an industry that took a century to scale up from crude oil to market will be able to do that [in reverse] in 10 years.”
Doucet’s goal for the company was to scale the technology to recycle plastic scrap. After some trial and error, he says Pyrowave’s technology is about ready to go to market.
“It’s robust and working, and we’re getting into the market next year,” he says. “We have partners signing up with us to get this platform up and running at commercial scale.”
Recycling Today (RT): Why did Pyrowave want to focus its technology on plastics recycling?
Jocelyn Doucet (JD): One of the reasons we decided to work on plastic recycling was because we kind of felt that the main issue with plastic recycling is the lack of markets. If you take a used postconsumer package, clean it, cut it, shred it, the market for that material is smaller than the market for virgin material. So, we thought that maybe you need to go one step back, just before a package was put in that shape or compounding stage. The way to get it that one step before is to get it back to its root chemical.
What’s unique about microwaves is that it’s a thermal process. Essentially you break these monomers by the action of heat. You have a lot of processes that are doing that by pyrolysis. That has pros and cons. But here with the microwave, we’re able to target only the bond that we want to break. We’re able to be very selective in how we cut the chain. We’re able to recover more of the high- value product than with pyrolysis.
RT: Are chemical recycling technologies ready to be scaled up?
JD: In the history of polymer making, we’ve never manufactured as much polymer as we have right now. The one thing we have to keep in mind is it took a lot of time to level up polymer making in the first place. So, starting from that lab conception of what these polymers are and scaling up production of these [virgin] polymers took multiple decades to be able to get this massive production scale. Now, expecting to do the reverse and turning that postconsumer polymer into something useful will take at least the same amount of time. We can’t expect that an industry that took a century to scale up from crude oil to market will be able to do that [in reverse] in 10 years.
I think you’ll see in the coming years some of these [chemical recycling] technologies come to market. Some will succeed, some may be left behind. But I think the success criteria here is whether you’re able to make good product of good value and with energy efficiency.