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Eesti Energia’s process of plastic waste to contribute to the circular economy

Estonia’s energy company Eesti Energia will start work with the Tallinn University of Technology to find a solution for using plastic waste in industrial volumes in oil production and for converting unusable residues into valuable liquid fuel. Thereby it will contribute to solving the environmental problems in Estonia and the neighbouring countries.

The Enefit oil production technology, according to Margus Vals, board member of Eesti Energia, makes it possible to change Ida-Viru County into an important player for solving environmental problems. It is already possible to process used tyres together with oil shale and the prospect of doing the same with non-recycled plastics will further enhance the importance of the technology.

“Eesti Energia’s new developments focus on innovation, in which we include the best research and development partners in the region,” said Mr Vals. “We see that we, through the circular economy and new technologies, have the potential to be an important support in the solving of environmental problems, as never before has Estonia created such a high value from oil shale, so cleanly as currently. We would reduce the amount of plastic waste not only in Estonia but also in the neighbouring countries, through the use of non-recyclable plastics in the production of oil.”

The use of plastics in the oil production of Enefit oil plants, with oil shale and shredded tyres, would allow annually to process minimally 80,000 tonnes of waste, in an environmentally friendly way, into a new, high-value product, reduce the production CO2 emissions and improve the quality of liquid fuels. The processing of non-recycled plastic waste into oil is more efficient than the use of oil shale, as preliminary studies indicate that it is possible to get up to five times more oil from one tonne of plastic than from the same quantity of oil shale. There would, therefore, be significantly less solid residues and the number of other emissions would also be reduced. The quality indicators and process efficiency of liquid fuels would additionally improve, making the products more marketable. This will improve the lifespan of the plants, as well as assist in the preservation of employment in Ida-Viru County.

Laboratory tests will be performed in cooperation with TalTech by the beginning of 2021, which will be followed by testing on pilot equipment and in the oil plant, the acquisition of the necessary environmental permits and the preparation of production. The start of production is planned for 2023.

“It is possible in the framework of this project to systematically use the results of basic research while determining those factors on which will depend future successful application,” commented Hella Riisalu, senior researcher of the TalTech Virumaa College Oil Shale Competence Centre. “The answers will be provided by laboratory and bench tests. This will be a major step, in the case of success, for increasing the role of oil shale processing in the context of the circular economy.”

“Estonia has unique oil shale know-how and production technology that makes us a valued partner in the entire world,” added Mr Vals. The close cooperation between researchers and energy companies has led the field forward continuously, throughout decades and I am pleased that this cooperation in increasing the value of products, created in Estonia is growing.”

The innovativeness of the project lies in that plastic waste that has until now only been landfilled or incinerated, may find use and that unsorted plastic waste can be processed, including those with organic and mechanical additives, such as sand or clay, thus the need for sorting, as well as cleaning is eliminated.

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