about 400 million tons of plastic produced every year, but Less than 10% is recycled, most of the rest end up incinerated or landfilled. One reason is that traditional recycling processes have a hard time dealing with contaminated plastic, such as plastic made from mixing several different types of plastic with other materials, or just plain dirty plastic. De Pauliis a high-tech start-up company that has developed a process capable of handling complex plastic flows and converting plastic back into raw materials without compromising quality. The Switzerland-based startup announced today that it has raised $13.8 million in seed funding.
The round was co-led by BASF Venture Capital and Wingman Ventures, with participation from other investors including Beiersdorf, Infinity Recycling, CIECH Ventures and Angel Invest.
DePoly’s chemical recycling technology converts all PET plastic and polyester textiles back to their primary chemical raw material components, which are then sold back to the industry to make new products. DePoly says products made from its raw materials are of pristine quality.
The company currently operates a pilot plant capable of processing 50 tons of complex PET or polyester plastic streams per year. Industries it serves include post-consumer packaging, textiles, fashion and post-industrial flows. DePoly is building a 500-ton demonstration plant to showcase its technology on a commercial scale and already has five customers including fast fashion brands, sporting goods brands, packaging users and resin producers.
Founded in 2020 by CEO Samantha Anderson, CTO Bardiya Valizadeh and CSO Christopher Ireland, DePoly currently has a team of 13. In the years before founding DePoly, the trio moved to Switzerland for PhD and postdoctoral work. Anderson told TechCrunch that a lot has been published about microplastics in humans, the growth of plastic plaques in the ocean, and animals washing up with microplastics in their stomachs.
“To us, this is all very worrying, especially as companies don’t seem to care about solving problems now, rather than 10 to 15 years from now,” Anderson said. The skills developed during this time to solve the plastic problem, the goal is that if we can make it work, then we can start a company and solve this problem faster than other companies.”.
Traditional plastic recycling means that items such as bottles and food packaging made of PET and other plastics are taken to recycling facilities, where they are color sorted, cleaned, melted down and turned into rPET pellets. But if they’re too dirty, mixed with other plastics or in fabric or fiber form, they’re usually incinerated or dumped into landfills, Anderson said. There are also restrictions on what plastics can be recycled due to health and food safety standards, meaning most of the plastic produced is destroyed or discarded, while new plastic must be made from crude oil.
DePloy’s chemical recycling technology operates at room temperature and standard pressure and does not require cleaning, pre-sorting, pre-melting or separation of plastics and materials. This means it can be used to recycle PET and polyester that cannot enter traditional recycling systems, including mixed plastics, mixed colours, dirty plastic waste streams, fabrics and fibers. PET was converted back to the original two monomers, PTA and MEG.
Anderson explained that DePoly has a B2B model that connects users of complex plastic waste, such as mixed polyester, multilayer PET items, or PET items that are too dirty or chemically contaminated to be introduced into the mechanical recycling process, with the production of virgin-quality PET. The people of the article are connected due to the limited availability of sustainable chemicals such as PTA and MEG, so it is impossible to use petroleum. DePoly’s technology enables one party to get rid of PET and other plastic waste, while the other party (or the producer) obtains the virgin, sustainable chemicals that make up these items, creating a circular economy for plastics.
DePoly can also perform content restoration. For example, it can recover PP or cotton from PP/PET combinations or cotton/polyester blends. That’s because its system is cooler because it doesn’t melt the polymer, Anderson said. The startup is also working on scaling technologies for similar polymers such as polyurethane (PU), polylactic acid (PLA) and PBT.
As an example of how DePoly is using the chemical recycling process, Anderson said the company works with clients in the sporting goods industry who have polyurethane-blend polyester products. The polyurethane content means these items would normally be thrown away, but DePoly is able to fully recycle them and is now expanding its technology to recycle the polyurethane portion.
Anderson cites other startups like Carbios, Gr3n, and Ioniqua that are doing similar work on plastics, and says she thinks “the technology they’ve developed is brilliant.” The product output in the reaction, the temperature required for the reaction, and the allowable contamination threshold. “In our case, we operate at lower temperatures, produce the same monomers that make up PET, and we understand that we have a higher contamination threshold than other companies.”
Antonia Albert, principal at Wingman Ventures, said in a statement about the investment: “We are extremely proud to have supported DePoly from day one in addressing this global crisis, cleaning up plastic waste in our oceans and landfills, and Welcoming leading investors in the chemicals, recycling, climate and deep tech spaces, committed to creating a global leader in sustainable plastic recycling.”