After two years of research into the best way to process recycled polymers into honeycomb products - a project made possible by funding from the Flanders Innovation and Entrepreneurship agency - EconCore has now developed economically viable technology that is commercially ready and available for licencing.
The company’s honeycomb core technology is already an environmentally more responsible solution compared to other core types, due to the fuel and energy savings during the in-service use of lower weight products.
Known as ThermHex, the technology plays an essential role in enabling the use of honeycomb materials in cost-sensitive applications. Applications include the sidewalls of delivery trucks and trailers, vehicle interiors such as parcel shelves, headliners, boot/trunk floors and other interior panels. It can also be used for concrete casting moulds and façade panels in the commercial construction and building sector.
The use of recycled PET further advances the benefits, offering a substantial reduction of the CO2 footprint, superior temperature resistance and mechanical properties compared to conventional thermoplastic core materials.
According to EconCore, globally, the annual consumption of plastic bottles could reach over half a trillion by 2021. “Recycling efforts so far cannot keep up”, the company said. Its recycled PET honeycomb cores, it added, also include bottle grade rPET flakes as well as recycled coloured waste PET globally. As EconCore’s products are not visible in the final sandwich panels, aesthetic considerations unimportant.
The project required the company’s processing methodology to be optimized through adjustments to its equipment, said Wouter Winant, technical manager at EconCore. “And by adjusting the content of additives or fillers, we can optimise the performance characteristics,” he added.
Working in close collaboration with its partner MEAF, a Dutch extrusion machinery company, Econcore was able to achieve the desired results in terms of production speed. According to Ardjan Houtekamer, technical director at MEAF, the sheet extruders developed for EconCore are currently among the most efficient in the market, extruding up to 1,200 kg per hour while using only 0.20 kWh per kg.
The rPET honeycomb cores from EconCore are set to be used in the TU/ecomotive project at Eindhoven University of Technology. Students will design and build a road legal car called Luca from waste, recyclable and biodegradable material. EconCore are a gold sponsor of the project, which is due to be completed in June 2020, and its product will be used for the chassis.