Eastman Investing $250M in Depolymerization Plant

Eastman Chemical Co. will invest $250 million over two years to build a methanolysis plant at its Kingsport, Tennessee facility.

Methanolysis is a process through which scrap PET is heated and treated with methanol. The process breaks down the plastic into its component monomers, dimethyl terephthalate (DMT) and ethylene glycol (EG), which are purified and used to make new plastic. Eastman calls its technology “polyester renewal technology.”

The company described the plant, which will have an annual capacity of over 100,000 metric tons at full build-out, as “one of the world’s largest plastic-to-plastic molecular recycling facilities.”

Eastman’s plastics sorting capabilities and complementary chemical recycling technologies will help it cost-effectively secure the ample feedstock supply needed for the methanolysis plant, says Eastman CEO and Board Chair Mark Costa in a news release. The company expects construction to finish by the end of 2022.

Methanolysis was originally developed by Kodak decades ago for use on polyester photographic films. During a Jan. 29 conference call with investors, Costa noted that methanolysis isn’t particularly novel or difficult, but the chemical purification that occurs after PET is broken down requires capability and experience. Eastman has developed numerous trade secrets over the years to ensure that intermediate chemicals coming out of the process are purified and are basically identical to intermediates from fossil fuel feedstocks.

Costa said during the call that Eastman was developing engineering plans for a methanolysis unit for processing post-consumer plastics back in 2010, but the market wasn’t ready for it at the time, according to the news release. “We’re really excited because the market is very much ready for it now. Climate, circularity, sustainability is obviously becoming an incredible priority around the world.”