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© Mathias Jäger: Christoph Alberti (CEO), Naser Arifi (Sales, Operation) and Dr. Stephan Enthaler (Research)

At the Hamburg Innovation Awards, DePla secured first place in the IDEE category. The team from the University of Hamburg beat out the innovative spectroscopy device from 5pectre Optix and the digital training offer for the game of darts from WeDart. The prize was awarded to DePla for the most potential business idea with a recycling solution.

The potential is indeed huge. For example, an EU directive requires beverage bottles to be made of at least 25% recycled plastic from 2025. 2030, the mandatory proportion will increase to 30%. However, this is easier said than done. In Germany, around 630,000 tons of PET plastic waste that can no longer be mechanically recycled is destroyed each year, with a material value equivalent to around 1.1 billion euros, and replaced by PET based on fossil raw materials.

As the key to solving this problem and building a sustainable and resource-efficient circular economy, chemical recycling can make a significant contribution. The startup DePla is developing a process to convert mechanically non-recyclable and low-quality PET into the industrially relevant components dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and ethylene glycol (EG).

DMT and EG can be processed in-house into food-grade PET and then supplied to product manufacturers or sold as a package to PET producers. The process is scalable and is expected to have a medium-term capacity to recycle up to 60,000 metric tons of PET per year in an initial plant, which corresponds to approximately 10% of the PET arising in Germany that cannot be recycled using conventional methods. DePla is aiming for commissioning of such a plant, which could generate over 100 million euros in commodity value, in 2025.

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