With 21 partners, an almost €10 million budget and a duration of 48 months, the PolynSPIRE project, which is funded by the EU within the Horizon 2020 programme is a serious collaborative effort targeted at developing a set of innovative, and sustainable solutions for efficient plastic recycling.
More specifically the project, which kicked off in September 2018, will develop novel strategies for sustainable and cost-effective recycling processes for post-consumer and post-industrial waste streams in which at least 80% of the contents are plastic materials.
The main focus is on PA and PU. Last week, a webinar on the progress of the project was hosted by EuPC and Polymer Comply Europe during which an update was given by Tatiana García-Armingol, Senior Researcher and Director of the Energy and Environment Group of CIRCE Foundation and project coordinator for polynSPIRE project, on the progress of the project.
Pointing to the challenges involved in the recycling of the different plastics - the current waste management system, in which certain plastic waste cannot be recycled, the fact that plastic waste is generated at different points along the value chain - she explained that PolynSPIRE was focused on developing innovative solutions in three directions: chemical recycling, mechanical recycling and valorization. Ultimately, the goal is to establish a ‘new plastic value chain’.
Solutions using microwaves – which reduces the energy consumption of the process - and smart magnetics for the chemical recycling of polyamide (PA) and polyurethane (PU) using depolymerization reactions are being looked; innovations in mechanical recycling are aimed at boosting the quality of mechanically recycled materials for example through ‘additivation’ and high energy radiation the valorization ‘pillar’ focuses on the use of plastics as a carbon source in steel furnaces, for example, to replace coal.
“Currently, good results have been achieved at lab scale for all the technologies in terms of efficiency and quality,” Tatiana reported, noting that vitrimers are expected to be a good solution for PU-based materials.
Also: “The results of high energy radiation of PA recycled samples are very promising in terms of mechanical properties effects,” she added. The project is also looking at non-technical barriers to efficient recycling, including the development of the standards needed in this area and various legislative issues and will propose business models for integrating the solutions developed into the overall plastic waste management system.
Right now, said Tatiana, the project is engaged in ‘consolidation at lab scale’ and will be moving towards demonstration and validation of the technologies during the coming months. However, questions such as ‘how can we optimize and make feasible the scalability of the technology’ remain, she noted.
The project will deal with streams containing 100% waste and ensure that at least 50% of the total plastics containing PA and PU is recycled, leading to a reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions of between 30 and 40%.
It will evaluate the optimal technical, environmental and economic fit for different materials, taking into account parameters such as waste source (post-industrial or post-consumer), composition, and contaminants. A Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Cost of the different strategies will be conducted in order to assess the economic and environmental advantages of each recycled material.