Meet Jeff, Founder and CTO, Nexus Circular
Jeff wants to make a positive difference in the world. He got an idea how to do that a decade and a half ago reading an article.
“I remember reading about a Swiss company that was taking plastic grocery bags and converting them back into a raw material that was then usable for a variety of purposes.”
Interesting idea, he thought. But first he needed proof of concept.
“Being trained in the scientific method, you always start with research and test the hypothesis. I looked it up and did some research, reading a lot of papers going through patents, and thought, this is something that could actually happen.”
“That launched the idea of being able to convert used plastic at a commercial scale into something that could actually make a difference in managing plastic waste.”
The idea sounds simple enough.
“The hypothesis we wanted to prove was simply that plastics could be broken down back into their building block components. Plastics are made of hydrocarbons. Most people have heard of hydrocarbons. Gasoline is a hydrocarbon, diesel is a hydrocarbon, things like that.”
“If plastics could be somehow decomposed and broken back down, you’d end up with those building blocks again. And they could be used to serve any number of purposes, including new plastics.”
Taking that hypothesis and creating a viable company took some time. And some innovation.
“We are very much in a field of discovery. There were no actual machines that you could go out and buy that would do this.”
“That’s where the research comes in. The idea of doing this has been around a very long time. But we took a look at all the different technologies over time. And we said, this seemed to work well for this group, this worked well for that group, this will grow. Let’s try to combine the best features of the technologies that had come before and assimilate them into one unified form.”
So, over a decade and a half of innovation, his company developed improved technology to convert hard-to-recycle plastic back into its raw materials to be made into new products.
Like new plastic. Again and again.
As founder and COO/CTO of Nexus Circular, Jeff has proved the concept. And now he’s making that positive difference.
Meet Jeff. One of America’s Change Makers.
The “advanced recycling” recycling process Nexus uses builds on existing mechanical recycling, greatly expanding the types and amount of plastic that can be recycled.
“We can handle a variety of materials. We have foam cups, we’ve got plastic bags, bubble wrap, food packaging, agricultural bags, all kinds of different things. And we’re able to take a wide variety of plastics, process them and they’ll all produce the same products that we’re after.”
The process – called pyrolysis – can even handle some contaminants that arrive at his facility along with the recyclable plastic.
“We pull out contaminants like pieces of cardboard, pieces of paper, pieces of wood, things like that that aren’t going to convert into chemicals. Somebody once found a $20 bill. If some gets through, that’s fine. Our system can handle it.”
Pyrolysis is fairly simple, even though it took years to get it right.
“The used plastic goes through a heated tube with a big screw in it. The plastic is then kind of semi-molten, the consistency of toothpaste. It’s pumped into reactors that do the rest of the heating and allow that material to fully pyrolyze, breaking it apart into the small hydrocarbon chains that we recover.”
“You can almost think of it as a saucepan on your stove, where the material is literally boiling off. And that’s what we’re going to capture and reuse.”
“Now that the plastic has been converted in the reactors, we have to cool it down. Condensers, which is exactly what they do, they condense that hot vapor down into a liquid form. And that’s discharged into large storage tanks. And from there it goes into our customers’ tanker trucks.”
It’s not magic. But to Jeff, sometimes it feels like it is.
“We’ve broken down plastic into the molecular form. We have those molecules. I sometimes equate this to modern alchemy, where we’re taking a waste product and converting it into our liquid gold.”
“These high-value molecules can now be used to make a wide range of products, like food packaging, things like plastic wrap. It can be used for medical devices, syringes, IV bags, things like that. Car parts, hardhats, yogurt cups. Any number of plastic products can be made from these molecules.”
And he and Nexus are not done innovating. And evolving.
“We’ve made major advances, we’ve had major accomplishments and a lot of great successes. Accompanying that we’ve had a lot of learnings, and those sometimes are hard learnings. And quite frankly, with any technology like this, I think there’s an evolutionary process that continues for a very, very long time.”
“We’re currently running what we call our gen two system. We’ll be building our gen three system shortly. But I see a time in the future when we’re on generation 10. And even beyond that as we continue to learn, continue to evolve.”
To Jeff, it’s all about making sustainable change.
“The underlying goal in all of this is to have a positive impact on the environment. I just feel that we have been given the opportunity to actually make a difference.”
We wish Jeff continued success.