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06.07.2021

»Waste4Future«: Today's Waste becomes Tomorrow's Resource

Fraunhofer Institutes pave new ways in plastics recycling

A sustainable society, the renunciation of fossil raw materials, climate-neutral processes - also the chemical industry has committed itself to these goals. For the industry, this means a huge challenge within the next years and decades. This structural change can succeed if all activities - from the raw material base to material flows and process technology to the end of a product's life cycle - are geared towards the goal of sustainable value creation. The key to this is innovation.

Fraunhofer Institutes pave new ways in plastics recycling

A sustainable society, the renunciation of fossil raw materials, climate-neutral processes - also the chemical industry has committed itself to these goals. For the industry, this means a huge challenge within the next years and decades. This structural change can succeed if all activities - from the raw material base to material flows and process technology to the end of a product's life cycle - are geared towards the goal of sustainable value creation. The key to this is innovation.

Plastics such as polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) or polystyrene (PS), which are currently produced almost entirely from fossil raw materials, are fundamental to many everyday products and modern technologies. The carbon contained in plastics is an important resource for the chemical industry. If it is possible to better identify such carbon-containing components in waste, to recycle them more effectively, and to use them again to produce high-quality raw materials for industry, the carbon can be kept in the cycle. This not only reduces the need for fossil resources, but also pollution with CO2 emissions and plastic waste. At the same time, the security of supply for industry is improved because an additional source of carbon is tapped.

The "Waste4Future" lighthouse project therefore aims to create new opportunities for recycling plastics in order to make the carbon they contain available as a "green" resource for the chemical industry. "We are thus paving the way for a carbon circular economy in which valuable new base molecules are obtained from plastic waste and emissions are largely avoided: Today's waste becomes tomorrow's resource," says Dr.-Ing. Sylvia Schattauer, deputy director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS, which is heading the project. "With the know-how of the participating institutes, we want to show how the comprehensive recycling of waste containing plastics without loss of carbon is possible and ultimately economical through interlocking, networked processes." The outcome of the project, which will run until the end of 2023, is expected to be innovative recycling technologies for complex waste that can be used to obtain high-quality recyclates.

Specifically, the development of a holistic, entropy-based assessment model is planned (entropy = measure of the disorder of a system), which will reorganize the recycling chain from process-guided to material-guided. A new type of sorting identifies which materials and in particular which plastic fractions are contained in the waste. Based on this analysis, the total stream is separated and a targeted decision is then made for the resulting sub-streams as to which recycling route is the most technically, ecologically and economically sensible for this specific waste quantity. What cannot be further utilized by means of mechanical recycling is available for chemical recycling, always with the aim of preserving the maximum possible amount of carbon compounds. Burning waste containing plastics at the end of the chain is thus eliminated.

The challenges for research and development are considerable. These include the complex evaluation of both input materials and recyclates according to ecological, economic and technical criteria. Mechanical recycling must be optimized, and processes and technologies must be established for the key points in the material utilization of plastic fractions. In addition, suitable sensor technology must be developed that can reliably identify materials in the sorting system. Machine learning methods will also be used, and the aim is to link them to a digital twin that represents the properties of the processed materials.

Another goal of the project is the automated optimization of the formulation development of recyclates from different material streams. Last but not least, an economic evaluation of the new recycling process chain will be carried out, for example with regard to the effects of rising prices for CO2 certificates or new regulatory requirements. The project consortium will also conduct comprehensive life cycle analysis (LCA) studies for the individual recycling technologies to identify potential environmental risks and opportunities.

For the development of the corresponding solutions, the participating institutes are in close exchange with companies from the chemical industry and plastics processing, waste management, recycling plant construction and recycling plant operation, in order to consider the needs of industry in a targeted manner and thus increase the chances of rapid application of the results achieved.

The following Institutes are involved in the Fraunhofer lighthouse project "Waste4Future":

  • Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS (lead)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Non-Destructive Testing IZFP
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Materials Recycling and Resource Strategy IWKS
  • Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB
  • Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV
Photo: Pixabay
29.06.2021

A sustainable Circular Economy: Polypropylene Recycling from Carpet Waste

A significant part of carpet waste consists of petroleum-based polypropylene. As a non-recyclable product, disposing of it has previously meant incineration or landfill. However, a new solvent is now making it possible to recover virgin-standard polypropylene from carpet waste — with no perceptible reduction in quality. Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP and its partners, the process also involves costs that are quite competitive. The development has taken place as part of the ISOPREP EU project.

The EU alone produces around 1.6 million tons of carpet waste every year. The majority of this ends up being sent to landfill or incinerated, as carpet is a composite material that is not suitable for purely mechanical recycling methods. With carpet waste analysed in the project consisting of around a quarter polypropylene, a petroleum-based plastic, the result is a great deal of resources going to waste.

A significant part of carpet waste consists of petroleum-based polypropylene. As a non-recyclable product, disposing of it has previously meant incineration or landfill. However, a new solvent is now making it possible to recover virgin-standard polypropylene from carpet waste — with no perceptible reduction in quality. Developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics IBP and its partners, the process also involves costs that are quite competitive. The development has taken place as part of the ISOPREP EU project.

The EU alone produces around 1.6 million tons of carpet waste every year. The majority of this ends up being sent to landfill or incinerated, as carpet is a composite material that is not suitable for purely mechanical recycling methods. With carpet waste analysed in the project consisting of around a quarter polypropylene, a petroleum-based plastic, the result is a great deal of resources going to waste.

Carpet recycling now possible thanks to a new process
A team of researchers, including from Fraunhofer IBP, has now developed a new recycling process as part of an EU project named ISOPREP (see logo). “For the first time, this is making it possible to recover polypropylene from carpet waste — and the outcome is virgin-quality,” says Maike Illner, a researcher at Fraunhofer IBP. Not only does this allow the recovered polypropylene to be used in lower-quality products (in a process known as downcycling), but it also means that the quality is similar to that of newly manufactured polypropylene, making the material suitable for high-quality products too.

The process is based on a special solvent in the form of an ionic liquid. With the right components, it is able to selectively extract polypropylene from carpet fibers. Before the team of experts applies the solvent, the carpet waste is cleaned — something which involves removing as much of the backing as possible — and broken down. Once the pretreatment is complete, the waste is fed into a reactor in which it undergoes treatment using the solvent. The polypropylene is selectively dissolved in the solvent, a method that provides an effective way of removing dyes and other additives. The process is already being used on an extensive laboratory scale involving several liters of the solvent — and now, the research consortium has set its sights on scaling the process up to a pilot plant with the ability to recycle a ton of carpet waste per day. The pilot plant is set to commence operation by the end of the project in March 2022.

Costs and environmental impact
A recycling process can only be deployed on a large scale if its costs are competitive. For this application, this means retaining as much of the expensive ionic liquid as possible in the cycle. “If loss rates can be kept to one percent or less, there is potential for the costs of the process to rival those of producing new polypropylene,” explains Illner. “We know this thanks to a preliminary economic analysis that we conducted at Fraunhofer IBP.” The analysis involved the Fraunhofer researchers investigating the quantities of material and energy that would be required for the process and what kind of product would be output, and then calculating the associated costs. The team also considered how the costs would develop over the long term.

Fraunhofer IBP is focusing on the ecological aspects of carpet recycling. It is able to draw conclusions from factors including a lifecycle assessment, which sheds light on the emissions that are produced during the recycling process, for example. If the consortium is able to achieve its aim of keeping solvent loss rates to one percent or less in this case too, primary energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions will remain on a similar scale to those involved in producing new polypropylene.

Potential for transfer to other polypropylene waste streams
While carpet waste is the focus of this particular project, the process that has been developed has potential applications far beyond it. The experts involved believe that it could be transferred to a whole host of waste flows that contain polypropylene and are unsuitable for conventional recycling methods. “One example is polypropylene products that contain dyes and additives,” says Illner. “Until now, it has been difficult to extract them from plastic, which means that the recycled polypropylene has only been suitable for use in lower-quality products.” The new process separates the polypropylene not only from other materials, but also from dyes and other additives, allowing it to be used in high-quality applications.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement no. 820787.

Photo: pixabay
18.05.2021

ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD and PERFORMANCE AWARD for innovative Summer Fabrics 2023

The digital Performance Days will kick off on May 17 through to May 21, providing online access to even more information, current trends, all the latest material innovations and enhanced tools while providing all within the industry the opportunity to interact with one another and with exhibitors.

The focus of the trend-setting PERFORMANCE FORUM in summer will highlight the winners of the two awards. This year, the jury will present a PERFORMANCE AWARD as well as an ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD.

The digital Performance Days will kick off on May 17 through to May 21, providing online access to even more information, current trends, all the latest material innovations and enhanced tools while providing all within the industry the opportunity to interact with one another and with exhibitors.

The focus of the trend-setting PERFORMANCE FORUM in summer will highlight the winners of the two awards. This year, the jury will present a PERFORMANCE AWARD as well as an ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD.

Function revisited: Outstanding fabric innovations for the Summer 2023 season
Plant-based fibers such as hemp, organic cotton, bamboo, wool, kapok or coconut shell remain in demand, with manufacturers increasingly refraining from the use of environmentally harmful chemicals, avoiding micro plastics, advocating natural dyeing processes and striving to either return fabrics back into the cycle, to recycle plastic and other waste or to produce fibers in such a way that they are biodegradable.

In the Marketplace, visitors have the opportunity to view more than 9.000 exhibitors’ products, including the fabric highlights of the individual PERFORMANCE FORUM categories. In order to present the fabrics to visitors in digital form as realistically as possible in terms of feel, design and structure, the PERFORMANCE FORUM has been equipped with state-of-the-art 3D technology, including innovative tools such as 3D images, video animations and U3M files for download.

Exceptional: PERFORMANCE AWARD & ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD Winners
For the Spring/Summer 2023 season, the jury also presented two awards for outstanding new developments – so in addition to the PERFORMANCE AWARD, presented to the winner Trenchant Textiles, there is also an ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD winner, in this year’s case, Utenos Trikotazas.

Sustainability at the highest level, wellbeing for body & soul:
With its fully biodegradable, brushed fleece material made of 11% hemp, 63% organic cotton and 26 % Tencel, Utenos Trikotazas fully convinced the jury and picked up the ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD for its sustainable comfort. The extremely comfy material is pleasant on the skin and impresses with an incredibly soft feel. Hemp is known for its natural anti-bacterial properties and natural UV protection. In combination with organic cotton and Tencel, this fabric guarantees ideal warmth and odour regulation.

Function redesigned, breaking down borders and creating space for the new: In keeping with the Focus Topic of the digital fair week “Still Physical – Your Success Story of 2020”, Trenchant Textiles combined functional features with fashionable design in its new fabric construction, fully deserving of the PERFORMANCE AWARD. The membrane on the outer side, SlickrB, is made of non-toxic, sustainable polypropylene membrane. By printing dot patterns on the surface of the membrane, the fabric provides greater abrasion resistance while maintaining its breathability properties. Absolutely revolutionary: patterns and colors can be altered individually according to preference. The inner liner made of N15DW (15D woven polyamide) also provides tear resistance as well as sufficient, adequate stretch.

PERFORMANCE DAYS © PERFORMANCE DAYS functional fabric fair
08.11.2016

THE BEST INNOVATIONS AT THE NOVEMBER 2016 PERFORMANCE DAYS ARE COMING OUT OF ITALY!

Coveted awards for active insulation and sustainable hybrids

The awards presented at PERFORMANCE DAYS are coveted trophies in the world of functional textiles. The winning fabrics or technologies are always truly pioneering innovations. In Fall 2016, the "Oscars of Function" go to Imbotex and Pontetorto.

Coveted awards for active insulation and sustainable hybrids

The awards presented at PERFORMANCE DAYS are coveted trophies in the world of functional textiles. The winning fabrics or technologies are always truly pioneering innovations. In Fall 2016, the "Oscars of Function" go to Imbotex and Pontetorto.

PERFORMANCE AWARD for the insulation "TWINS" from Imbotex
The Italian company Imbotex is well known for its high quality insulations. The latest generation is called "TWINS" and does not merely hold the warmth, it applies intelligent technology to create heat on demand. This is made possible by the two "faces" of the twin design. The patented, bonded fleece material consists of a lining made from a blend of polyacrylic and polyester that transports moisture quickly away from the skin. On the outside, hydrophobic polypropylene rapidly releases the moisture into the environment. The water vapor formed at the level of "insensible perspiration" is quickly transported to the outside and the body stays dry. During this process, the kinetic energy of the water vapor converts to heat energy and the inner lining of the garment remains pleasantly warm, even in the low temperatures of winter. "TWINS" from Imbotex was the winner of the PERFORMANCE AWARD for this intelligent solution that produces additional warmth and ensures a dry feeling.    

ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD for the hybrid design "ECO HYBRID" from Pontetorto
Engineered hybrids, that is, hybrid solutions that combine multiple zones and fibers in one fabric length are the future of functional clothing. Through such hybrid engineering, sports styles are given the added value of such useful features as thermal retention, climate management, durability, lighter weight, and elasticity; and, all of these at the exact position where it is desirable to have the function. Another advantage of this fabric design is the elimination of irritating seams, which means increased comfort for the wearer. Nevertheless, to manufacture these hybrids requires much experience with jacquard production. The new fabric "ECO HYBRID" introduced by fleece specialist Pontetorto represents not only a sophisticated and highly functional jacquard hybrid with different zones – it is entirely produced with absolutely sustainable methods. The fibers used, in this case polyamide and merino wool, are both quickly degradable and environmentally friendly. The fact that merino wool is degradable is not unusual as it is a natural product. The special aspect of this concept is the polyamide fiber used exclusively by Pontetorto, which is fully degradable within three years! For so much "green" innovation, Pontetorto was selected as the winner of the ECO PERFORMANCE AWARD.
 
All of the newest trends for Winter 2018/19 and our FOCUS TOPIC are on display on November 16-17, 2016 at PERFORMANCE DAYS in the Munich MTC. For all those who cannot wait, a lot of information is already provided for you online at: https://www.performancedays.com

About PERFORMANCE DAYS
PERFORMANCE DAYS — The “functional fabric fair” launched in 2008, is the first and only event created especially for functional fabrics for sports and work clothing. The aim of the semi-annual trade fair is to give leading and innovative textile manufacturers, suppliers and service providers the opportunity to present their functional fabrics, membranes plus treatments, laminates, paddings, finishes, and accessories such as yarns, tapes, prints, buttons and zippers.
No entry fee and free admission to all events for industry visitors.
Detailed information and advanced registration online at: www.performancedays.com