The overuse of plastics and the management of their end of life is a major global environmental issue. According to a report (PDF version) by the United Nations Environment Programme, only 9% of the 9 billion tonnes of plastic ever produced has been recycled. To fight plastic pollution and create sustainable solutions, we need to innovate.
Based in Montréal, Pyrowave is a pioneer in microwave chemical recycling, which allows for the infinite regeneration of post-consumer plastics into new plastics. This technological breakthrough is among the sustainable solutions to the fight against plastic waste.
Pyrowave technology for the benefit of the environment
With the Pyrowave microwave technology, we can recycle polystyrene infinitely
Founded in 2014, Pyrowave sought to develop green technologies and promote the circularity of resources, in this case plastic and polystyrene. Through its research and efforts, it has developed and patented an innovative technology for depolymerizing polystyrene using microwaves that is powered by electricity. Since then, Pyrowave has positioned itself in the production of equipment developed using its technological platform, such as reactors for recycling post-consumer polystyrene products and packaging. Today, the company is working on the 4th generation of industrial-scale reactors and has a pilot plant in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Quebec.
Pyrowave's innovation gives it a considerable competitive advantage thanks to 2 key aspects. First, the use of microwaves makes it possible to regenerate post-consumer plastics by breaking them down into their basic constituents, which can then be used to make new plastic resins, thus restoring their full value.
Second, the equipment it produces is modular, meaning that it can be scaled and adapted according to the customer's needs and the volumes of material to be processed.
Pyrowave technology has concrete benefits for the environment:
- It emits 3 times less greenhouse gases to produce polystyrene from recycled materials and consumes 15 times less energy.
- It makes it possible to reintegrate recycled plastic into the production and consumption loop instead of creating new plastic.
- It can be applied locally at petrochemical companies near plastic sorting centres, thus avoiding the need to truck all of the waste to a single designated recycling location.
Taking it to the next level
The company has grown considerably in recent years. For one, the number of employees has tripled since 2016. Moreover, media coverage of the plastics issue and the new regulations to restrict single-use plastics has increased public awareness and also had an impact on plastic producers, which must now find ways to recycle it. Because traditional recycling methods have their limits, Pyrowave is being rewarded for its audacity, for making returns on its investments, and for having innovated and patented microwave chemical recycling processes.
After receiving an initial grant in 2016, the company obtained $3.2 million from the Sustainable Development Technology Canada program in 2020, which helped it attract renowned groups and investors, such as Michelin, a world leader in sustainable materials. In addition to giving the company a lot of credibility in the markets, this investment has enabled them to continue growing:
"Once you are known, it is easier to attract funds to put back into research and development. It also attracts highly talented employees," says Jean-Philippe Laviolette, Co-Founder and Vice-President of Innovation at Pyrowave.
Today, the company has the most efficient chemical recycling technology on the market, with the highest yields. Its business model is a mix of equipment sales, licensing agreements for the use of equipment, and a support service based on the customer's needs.
In addition, the company's name and logo are registered trademarks in Canada.
International focus and intellectual property strategy
Pyrowave is partnering with Michelin to accelerate its industrialisation phase
Pyrowave is planning to expand internationally, mainly to the European market, as Europe is among the most progressive regions in terms of regulations on the use of plastic and the circular economy.
This next step is at the heart of the intellectual property (IP) strategy, which in turn is aligned with the business objectives. After verifying that their product was indeed innovative, the company determined that the use of microwaves for chemical processes is almost non-existent and that there are few players in the field. It also decided to surround itself with IP experts to develop a robust IP strategy and support its international expansion. That decision was a key factor in its success.
In fact, if there is one important piece of advice that Pyrowave can give to other emerging Canadian companies, it is to seek out the necessary IP expertise (such as the advice of IP experts) to help them clearly outline the key steps in managing IP assets.
"It is impossible to attract investors without IP; that is one of the questions they ask. Customers also demand that technology is protected. Without IP, there are no investors and no licensing agreements with customers."