Polymer recycler wins energy and environment innovation award

An engineer who developed a process for recycling plastics from complex waste streams has won this year’s Energy and Environment category prize in the Economist magazine’s Innovation Awards.

The award will be made to Dr Michael Biddle at London’s Science Museum next month. He set up his original demo lab in his Californian garage in 1992, before co-founding MBA Polymers two years later and setting up a pilot plant.

His process recovers polymeric materials from highly complex waste products, including computers, electronics, appliances and automobiles. Not only can the MBA plant extract metals and contaminants from waste, but it can separate out the various plastics by their polymer types and grades. The polymers are then reused in a number of different applications, with the whole process consuming less than 10 per cent of the energy required to make virgin plastics from petrochemicals.  

MBA Polymers now has facilities in California, Guangzhou in China, and Kematan in Austria, and will open its first plant in Britain on 1st October. The privately held company does not report its sales, but claims it has recovered more than 100 million pounds (45,000 tons) of plastic in the last three years alone, and is expanding its production capacity significantly.

The US Department of Energy estimates that 5.4 million tons of mixed durable plastics are discarded in America each year.

“Not only does our technology keep a valuable resource from the landfills and incinerators around the world, it can save billions of pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere, dramatically reduce water consumption, and save millions of barrels of oil every year,” said Dr Biddle. He added, “We are proud to demonstrate that environmental and economic benefits can and should coincide.”

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