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Contenu archivé le 2024-05-29

Long fibre recycling

Final Report Summary - L-FIRE (Long fibre recycling)

The L-FIRE project has been studying new possibilities for the recycling of long fibres, such as ropes and, particularly, Optical fibre cables (OFC), for which there is currently no viable recycling method. The participants in this project expect to put an end to the dumping and burning of tons of OFC. With pollution and global warming continuously making their way to the top of political agendas, more and more companies are looking for new recycling techniques to 'save the world'.

Current processing of outdated OFCs is very limited. Cables are dumped or burned, without any re-use of their components. The only existing processing method is mechanical shredding which isolates its components, but the very nature of OFC prevents this technique from being efficient. OFC contains optical fibreglass, polyethylene, gels, aramid fibres and, in some cases of the older cables, aluminium or steel. In the process of shredding and size-reduction, the cable is cut and the different components isolated, but the aramid-strength prohibits durable cutting and the gel sticks the small pieces of material, resulting in a useless blend of chunks.

The L-FIRE consortium follows a different route: instead of being cut (as is done for other types of cables with traditional shredding), the OFC is 'broken down', in a process mirroring the layering-up building process. The cable is stripped of its different component layers, from the outer plastic jacket to the inner fibre core. As a result, the different materials are recycled and gels are no longer an important issue in the separation process.

The ineffectiveness of shredding and dumping, and the costs of burning, opens up encouraging prospects for L-FIRE. The establishment of the new methods can have positive effects on the recycling of OFC and also pave the way to the recycling of other long fibres, such as ropes. By stopping incineration, recycling Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can recover recyclable materials from OFC, while at the same time avoiding incineration costs that are currently at EUR 50 - 350 per ton. The L-FIRE results could strengthen the position of many companies and create up to 5 000 jobs in Europe.

The L-FIRE initiative has developed a new recycling method at a time when market prospects are at their highest. There is a strong need for such a method and the solution proposed by project participants will satisfy the demands of the European recycling industry in terms of costs and efficiency. Furthermore, the project will have positive long-term environmental effects, by reducing the need for incinerations and encouraging the recycling of plastics and long fibres.

The following breakthroughs were achieved (partly on lab scale):
- A reversed processing technique was set up for OFC recycling, on the drawing board. This reversed processing technology is based on a layer by layer breakdown of the OFC, to recover all high value materials in the OFC. A prototype reeler was placed at both RTD's locations, KEMA and Gaiker, but also at several locations at the SME-partners in the project: EMRE and MVE. Recipor and Teijin contributed with supplying (spare) parts, other companies in the project contributed with knowledge input.
- A distinction in OFC cable types, on economic basis is set up. Based on this approach, an economically attractive recycling route can be achieved (detailed calculations are worked on at this moment).
- A gel liberation technique for fibre recycling is being developed on lab scale. Gel removal can be based on adding a special gel binder or using a chemical solvent.
- Delamination of plastic / metal layers was foreseen to solve with the VELOX resonance disintegration technology. Because of their leaving, an alternative technology was found in a shear force based hammering step. Development of aluminium-polymer sandwiched materials separating technology for optical fibre cables.
- An innovative (new for recycling) way of aramid removal is being developed. Technique is based on pressurised air, giving a 'air-lift' to the aramid, and blows is from the remaining core.
- Plastic / plastic separation by tribo-electric separation.