Northeast Ohio, and Akron in particular, has a deep-rooted history in the polymer industry. Once referred to as the “rubber capital” of the world, Akron has since become a hub for polymer innovation and research. As a state, Ohio is number one in the nation in terms of employment in polymers and materials with the Northeast Ohio region employing more than 26,000 workers. Home to world-renowned companies such as A. Schulman, Lubrizol Corporation, OMNOVA Solutions, PolyOne Corporation and more, Northeast Ohio is recognized as a leader in polymer innovation.
In addition to an array of established companies, Northeast Ohio also boasts the University of Akron’s College of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering, which is one of the world’s premier institutions for polymer research and development. Their program is the largest and frequently cited as one of the world’s best. The college incorporates the Goodyear Polymer Center, the Polymer Engineering Academic Center and the Akron Polymer Training Center. As a driver of polymer innovation, college faculty members have generated over 160 active patents and have licensed technologies that have been commercialized worldwide.
By leveraging Northeast Ohio’s vast polymer expertise and experience, a number of emerging companies have taken the lead in advancing a new area of focus within the polymer industry: plastics-to-oil technologies. Two companies in particular – Vadxx Energy and RESPolyflow – are playing a leading role in this area. Through a process known as thermal de-polymerization, plastic-to-oil technologies are able to recover the energy value of non-recyclable plastics, rubber and polymer-based materials and turn them into renewable diesel fuel. This novel process is progressively gaining attention across the country as it provides a viable and essential fuel source.
By transforming end-of-life plastics into higher value energy products, companies like Vadxx and RESPolyflow are able to significantly reduce the amount of waste that would typically end up in a landfill. In fact, it is estimated that every thermal de-polymerization unit in operation can reduce landfill waste by 20,000 tons each year.
Along with positive environmental benefits, the thermal de-polymerization process is also poised to make a significant economic impact. According to a 2014 study conducted by the American Chemistry Council, U.S. plastic-to-oil facilities could support 38,900 jobs and contribute $8.9 billion in U.S. economic output. As plastic-to-oil production is still in the early stages of development, Northeast Ohio is well-positioned to play a leading role in its evolution. With only a handful of companies involved in this pioneering work, Northeast Ohio home to two of the most prominent and is paving the way for future developments.
As we can see, from the groundbreaking work taking place at the region’s established companies, to the innovative research happening at our institutions of higher learner, to the pioneering technologies being developed at our emerging companies, Northeast Ohio is a hub of polymer activity. Vadxx Energy and RESPolyflow are prime examples of the kind of innovation taking place within the region; their work, along with many others, will help further cement Northeast Ohio’s place as a growing hub of polymer innovation.