UAB NEO GROUP, a PET producer operating in the Klaipėda FEZ, Lithuania, has been granted a patent on 16 February, by the European Patent Organisation for the chemical recycling technology of post-consumer PET packaging developed by the company’s engineers. The invention allows the use of secondary raw materials on the industrial PET production line, thus increasing the sustainability and circularity of the entire plastics value chain.
NEO GROUP’s invention is based on post-consumer PET packaging recovery, by bringing it back to production, preparation and purification of PET flakes by mild glycolysis. This technology already allows the production of new PET resin using 25% of secondary raw materials without compromising the quality of the final product. Still, in the future, the Klaipėda-based company intends to increase the share of secondary PET up to 50% in the future. NEO GROUP started laboratory, and pilot testing of this technology in 2019, the patenting procedure in spring 2020, the first batches of sustainable PET resin were supplied to its customers in early 2021, and officially received the EU patent on a symbolic day for Lithuania – 16 February 2022 (the State Restoration Day).
Ruslanas Radajevas, CEO of NEO GROUP, comments that the company’s technology contributes to the EU’s sustainability and circular economy in at least several ways. First of all, the invention is unique on a global scale and complements current mechanical recycling capabilities. It allows us to switch to raw materials from post-consumer packaging and significantly reduce the amount of fossil-based raw materials in the PET production process. In addition, NEO GROUP’s purification and preparation technology allows the plastic to be broken down to its original molecules so that it can be recycled an infinite number of times, opening the door to a truly circular economy. And above all, the final product, sustainable PET resin can be incorporated into NEO GROUP’s customer’s existing lines without investments into their technologies or processes and the quality parameters of the final packaging will not differ from that produced of primary virgin raw materials.
“Thanks to our technology, we are already producing and successfully supplying our customers with NEOPET CYCLE resin with 25% of recycled content. Customer feedback has been excellent: the high quality of the resin results in a final product that is almost identical to virgin PET, and the ability to buy resin with secondary recycled PET from one source is much more efficient than buying virgin and secondary raw materials separately. Moreover, with the EU’s 2025 requirement to produce PET bottles with 25% recycled content, we are already technically ready to help packaging producers to achieve these goals while continuing to improve our production and supply processes,” says Radajevas.
He says the company is continuing to improve its technology – NEO GROUP’s long-term goal is to achieve a 50% share of secondary raw material in the final production without sacrificing quality parameters. A 100% share is also theoretically possible, according to Radajevas. Although, today there is a shortage of raw material suitable for recycling on the market, which calls for changes in the entire value chain – PET packaging and beverage producers, collection, sorting and preparation of plastics infrastructure throughout the EU.
The NEO GROUP’s technology development is driven by the research team and many other specialists in the company, such as production operators, process control operators and engineers, the teams of other units. According to Radajevas, the patent itself confirms the highest-level ideas, uniqueness, and competencies of the team of NEO GROUP. It will also allow the company to strengthen its market position.
“It is also a signal to policymakers, legislators and consumers looking for sustainability. We hope that we can inspire other companies to develop their ideas not only at the laboratory, but also at the large-scale industrial level,” says Radajevas.
Encouraging both circularity and talent
According to Environment Minister Simonas Gentvilas, NEO GROUP’s achievement surpassed EU targets, will help Lithuania to achieve better recycling rates and inspire new engineers.
“It is globally recognised that plastic packaging is excellent, but poor collection and recycling pollutes the environment. In Lithuania, the collection of deposit packaging is working well, so it is great to see that recycling will also gain momentum with the support of NEO GROUP. So far, only 4% of new products in Lithuania contain recycled materials, compared to the EU average of 12%. We want to reach the EU average by 2024, so initiatives like this will make a significant contribution to achieving this goal,” says S. Gentvilas.
The NEO GROUP patent should also encourage young talents to pay more attention to the cleantech sector.
“The green deal and environmental protection will inevitably become an increasingly important part of our personal and professional lives. The NEO GROUP patent proves that we are not only importing technologies developed abroad but thanks to Lithuanian scientists and engineers, we can develop them here in Lithuania. I have great respect for the inventors of this technology – it is a prime example that world-class innovations are born in Klaipėda or Lithuania,” said the Minister of the Environment.