A new research project, UpcyclePET, has been launched in Germany to develop an innovative process for high-quality cycle utilisation of polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
Involved in the project are manufacturer of glass fibre-reinforced thermoplastics company Easicomp GmbH, the Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF, and the Institute for Applied Ecology (Öko-Institut e.V.).
This project, said Fraunhofer LBF, enables the recovery of PET waste from plastic bottles to be used in high-grade industrial applications and aims to reduce the use of new polyamide-based plastic parts.
“We would not like to use recycled PET just for plastic bottles, but would also like to use it in the production of durable and long-lasting products,” explained Tapio Harmia, CEO of Easicomp.
This idea, he added, is called ‘upcycling'.
According to Volker Strubel, coordinator of the project, upcycling will enable lightweight components to be produced from fibre-reinforced recycled PET, thus reducing the use of glass fibre reinforced polyamides typically applied in the production of automotive parts, e.g. engine mounts or cross members.
The partners in the UpcyclePET project are drawing on their knowledge of material and process development, in order to create an integrated manufacturing process for the production of fibre-reinforced PET components.
A pultrusion process is used to produce a long glass fibre-reinforced PET compound with improved properties.
“This kind of approach combines the mechanical advantages of the very strong long glass fibres with the special properties of PET,” explained a release by Fraunhofer, including 'a lower swelling capacity and good dimensional stability.'
The approach combines two processing steps that are usually separate and it allows the properties of the recycled PET to be easily customised through chemical modification and the use of additives, according to Frank Schönberger from Fraunhofer LBF.
Moreover, the method is a cost-effective one, as the team believes all necessary processing steps are completed in one manufacturing plant.
The project team chose a lightweight component from the automotive industry to evaluate the technical potential of the new compounds to replace those that are currently used.