Circular Plastic Recycling: VTT Spins out Olefy

In August, the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) has announced its plan to spin out a new company – Olefy Technologies.

According to the information, Olefy’s patent-pending technology can extract over 70 percent virgin grade plastics and chemical raw materials components from plastic waste. “The new process can be done in a single step, majorly reducing the cost of plastic recycling and making recycling a preferred option for massive amounts of landfill-bound plastic waste that current methods are unable to process.”

The Finnish research center pointed to the fact that today, only eight to ten percent of global plastics get recycled primarily through mechanical recycling. “However, only a limited share of plastic waste can be mechanically recycled. Furthermore, the resulting recycled plastic cannot be used in food packaging and pharma applications.” The opportunity to get virgin quality plastic from previously unusable plastic waste would mean that with Olefy “it is economically viable to recycle most of the world’s plastics with minimal sorting by consumers and businesses”.

“Plastic waste is one of the five major global problems that VTT has strategically set itself to solve,” Antti Vasara, CEO of VTT, was cited. “Olefy is a quantum leap in recycling that will change the way the world views plastic by making it truly circular and guiding us even faster towards carbon neutrality.”

More than one benefit
As underlined, a major advantage of the virgin quality materials produced from the Olefy process enables plastic to be recycled an infinite number of times. “One of the problems with current recycling methods is that the quality degrades every time plastic is recycled. After several rounds of mechanical recycling, the quality becomes too poor, and the plastic is no longer usable and goes to a landfill. With the Olefy recycling process, the quality of the plastic is equal to virgin grade, so it can be recycled indefinitely and materials no longer need to end up in landfills,” explained Matti Nieminen, Head of Technology at Olefy. “In essence, Olefy will make it possible for plastic to be a true part of the circular economy.”

The company’s new technology would eliminate the need for naphtha feedstock (a crude oil product normally needed for conventional plastic manufacturing) and is also able to produce enough energy for the process, VTT informed. “The economic benefits of having virgin grade components from recycled materials can completely change the dynamic of global oil consumption. Olefy will significantly reduce the need to use new oil for making plastic and maybe even create a new economic incentive to clean up plastic from land and water as it becomes a valued commodity.


The Olefy Technology

  • Olefy is an industrial-scale technology capable of recycling even low-quality plastic waste in order to manufacture high-value virgin grade plastics.
  • The Olefy process is based on gasification. It breaks plastic waste into olefins and other valuable hydrocarbons.
  • Yield of material recycling is as high as 70 percent of the feedstock.
  • The product molecules created with the Olefy process are equal to oil-based virgin olefins (pharma and food quality).
  • The robust process is tolerant to contaminants in the feed. This means easier pretreatment of the feed before the Olefy processing.
  • The process components are based on mature technology.
  • Technology readiness level (TRL) 5.
  • Eight patents are pending.


Major consumer product companies have set ambitious targets for incorporating recycled plastic into their products as well as packages – a typical goal being 25 percent of their total packaging by 2025. Around the world, demand for sustainable and recycled plastics was higher than ever, VTT stated. Essentially, with the Olefy process, it would take the same amount of ethylene or propylene-based waste plastic as higher-cost naphtha feedstock to produce a ton of virgin-grade plastic material. At the same time, the process itself would lower the cost of production of recycled plastic so significantly” that it can lower the bar for global companies to use it as a higher percentage of recycled material in their products and packaging,” the researchers are convinced.
“Demand for recycled plastics is growing much faster than the supply,” Timo Sokka, Head of Business at Olefy, was quoted. “All major brand owners are committed to fighting climate change, and they are responding to consumers‘ growing concerns on waste accumulation by utilizing recycled materials in their products. Olefy responds perfectly to these challenges by making plastics recycling truly feasible on an industrial scale.”

There is a further advantage. Olefy’s new technologies – according to VTT – could economically open up “a new world and value for plastic waste” for industrial steam cracker operations. A steam cracker is a petrochemical plant that breaks down light hydrocarbons, such as ethane, propane, and light naphtha, to produce ethylene. “This technology enables direct parallel integration of the Olefy modules into existing steam cracker sites around the world to effectively produce virgin grade olefins, which are converted back to virgin grade plastics. Significantly lower capital expenditure requirements, accelerating market demand, and price premiums make these investments also very attractive for the steam cracker operators.”

As reported, the working Olefy pilot is successfully running at VTT Bioruukki Pilot Centre in Espoo, Finland. In August, the company was discussing partnerships and negotiating with investors for scaling, business development, and licensing of the technology. The first industrial demonstration operation is expected to be operational by 2026.

(Published in GLOBAL RECYCLING Magazine 3/2022, Page 24, Photo: VTT)