Trifol Resources received €3 million in funding from the EU this week to scale up its PLASTIC2WAXLIFE project, which turns plastic waste into sustainable waste through a thermal conversion process.
Founded by a veteran of the waste management industry Pat AlleeTrifol has invested €7 million since 2015 to develop its patented products and processes, validate its scalable thermal conversion process known as modular pyrolysis at Queen’s University Belfast and pilot plant technology in Portlaoise.
Pyrolysis refers to the thermal composition of materials in a vacuum. The plastic is heated to 500°C in an inert environment – so no flames, no oxygen and no emissions – converting the plastic into gas vapour.
When the gas is cooled it becomes wax and a residual fuel by-product, and with no less than 400 million tonnes of plastic produced each year, of which only 16% is recovered, and the primacy of the social responsibility program companies, there is a potentially huge untapped market. for the services of Trifol.
“We would have a very high wax yield, we would try to optimize wax production. Why? Because the wax industry and the price of wax…are decoupled from the dollar price of a barrel of oil” , says Alley.
“The price of wax has been pretty stable at around $1,000 a ton, and with Covid and when the Ukrainian crisis hit, it’s now gone up to around $1,500 and $3,000 a ton for the highest quality. .”
“We have big companies that aspire to our technology because we can lift the plastics they recover…and give them independent certification…that the plastic was destroyed by us and made the following products that have been sold into an industry that would be valuable as wax oil, for example in the cosmetics industry, or lower quality waxes would go into the production of tires.”
Following a cash injection of €5 million, 60% of which comes from the European LIFE program for climate action technology, the company will begin the process of scaling up operations from processing to 24,000 tons of plastic per year at his Bord Na Móna -property in Littleton, Co. Tipperary.
Alley himself began his career as an accountant and helped integrate and standardize the systems of the 25 cooperatives that would form Irish dairy giant Avonmore, later Glanbia.
He rose to the position of head of fresh produce and was the company’s youngest board member before, as he said, growing “restless” after 16 and leaving to join IAWS. , now known as leading bakery company Aryzta, and then becoming CEO of Monaghan Mushrooms.
Alley then spent several years around the millennium in consulting, learning the food and drink business, the lingerie business – much to the chagrin of his wife – and the waste business before founding AES in 2001, sniffing an opportunity at a time when waste management in Ireland was ‘immature and developing’.
After working for six months with Societe Generale’s Vivendi, he decided to buy the Irish franchise for the company’s technologies, but at home none of the big companies in the sector had any interest in buying the technology because the Ireland was in a “non-compliant regulation”. period” and is content to stick to its established practices.
“Technologies didn’t matter to the waste industry so what I did was go around and knock on the doors of all the waste operators I got to know and love some of them immensely, so I decided to tackle the raw material,” he said
“I did my business plan and on a blank slate I started what Americans call a roll-up, and I went in and acquired 15 family businesses over a period of about three years.”
Having forecast a profit of 7 million euros after three or four years, AES achieved this turnover target in six months.
Ultimately, Alley and his advisers built a business that handled 500,000 tons of municipal solid waste with a turnover of 60 million euros and a number of material recovery facilities, making AES one of the leading companies in the sector behind Greenstar.
Bord Na Móna called in 2007, needing waste to fill a state-of-the-art landfill in Co Offaly that the state agency mistakenly believed the waste industry would rush in, acquiring AES for around €63 million.
“They made a strategic decision, Bord Na Móna, to acquire my business. They were looking for a compliant difference because I found that my biggest invisible cost…was the cost of bringing non-compliant businesses into compliance, so we were proud to do it at an extraordinary cost.”
Along with learning about the different sides and factions of the waste management business, Alley learned how much waste ends up either incinerated or landfilled and the financial and environmental benefits of recovery.
Alley’s last stepping stone before Trifol was Cynar, a Laois-based company that converted plastic waste into fuel before going into liquidation in 2015 when oil prices fell from $100 to $30 a barrel.
Alley regretted his decision to invest in a Cynar franchise when the market sank, but aligned himself with former BP scientist Dr. Martin Atkins from Queen’s University, which researched value-added by-products of petroleum such as lubricants, plastics and wax.
“About 4 million tons [of wax] comes from a by-product that comes out of an oil refinery, and I saw that it was not a single product…I saw it as a multi-product and therefore relatively derisked in terms of multiplicity of products and end uses.
“I invested about €500,000 in a pilot plant that was established at Queen’s University, and through R&D testing and production, we filed four patents — two for products, two for processes. — in UK, USA and USA After many years, we have obtained patents from all these offices.
“When we finished that work in 2017-18, I then set about trying to buy the [plant] Cynar’s assets out of liquidation, which we successfully completed after three years. »
Trifol now leases a facility from Bord Na Móna which it will modify and upgrade as needed before commencing phase one production later this year, with production expected to increase to 24,000 tonnes when a new plant is completed as part of phase two next year.
According to Alleys, there are very few customers for the wax, but it is a lucrative business as the wax has applications in the food, cosmetic and medical grade classes, and Trifol has developed a close relationship with the refinery. German oil company H&R, which will acquire all the plastic and wax produced by Trifol.
The third phase will see the company engage with a number of family-owned waste management operators in the London market who previously exported plastic waste to China and need a new solution provider for their plastics. Trifol also plans to establish a center of excellence to train Irish graduates in the fields of engineering, chemistry, quality control, sales, marketing and accounting.
“We have a big task ahead of us – a very exciting, very difficult task,” says Alleys. “Outside of Littleton, when we have a small 4,000 tonne commercial plant and a 24,000 tonne plant, then we will have a baseline that can enable global reach.
“We can sell licenses of the technology; we can create joint ventures, where we would be the junior partner … and then sell factories, sell the design and everything, a turnkey operation.
“People regularly knock on our door, yearning for the technology we have, but we have to crawl before we walk and be very serious about how we build our business, building slowly on the blocks that we know will stand above.
“The grant has given us a huge boost in terms of money and confidence, I might also add. To get such a level of support from the European Commission and the Irish Government is quite staggering.”
Pictured: (lr) Pat Alley; David Bradshaw, H&R UK and Benelux; Ulrike Volrath, H&R Germany; Alistair Wilding, H&R UK and Benelux; and Dr. Thorsten Frick, H&R Germany.