Evonik has now advanced another step further towards its goal of bringing its polyurethane (PU) chemical recycling technology to commercialisation. The Germany-based speciality chemicals manufacturer has joined forces with compatriot Remondis, one of the largest recycling firms in the world, to secure the supply of end-of-life mattress foam.
Every year, around 40 million mattresses are discarded in Europe alone, where only around 17% get recycled, with 50% ending up in landfill and 33% incinerated. To help address this issue, Evonik’s has developed a new hydrolysis process that allows the polyols contained in PU foams to be completely recovered. The company claims the quality of the recyclates is comparable to polyols made from mineral oil. The technology is a type of depolymerisation, whereby water is used to break down the chemical bonds in PU into the original polyol raw material.
The process is currently being tested in a pilot plant in Hanau, Germany, and in a next step, will be tested in a larger demonstration plant. The Vita Group, a UK-based provider of flexible PU foam products, has already trialled the recycled polyols from Evonik’s hydrolysis process in several of its flexible foam applications, after the two companies announced a partnership in November 2021. According to findings so far, Evonik's process purportedly significantly reduces the CO2 footprint compared with mattress production using fossil raw materials. The demonstration plant intends to show that this also applies on a larger scale.
Remondis will source a steady, quality supply of sorted PU flexible foams to Evonik, allowing it to expand its recycling volume. “By working together with Remondis, we can evolve from the current linear value chains to functioning circular loops,” said Dr. Patrick Glöckner, head of Evonik's global circular economy programme. “True circularity only works in networks, that’s why we are actively expanding our collaborations.”