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Demonstration of Innovative Technologies towards a more Efficient and Sustainable Plastic Recycling

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - POLYNSPIRE (Demonstration of Innovative Technologies towards a more Efficient and Sustainable Plastic Recycling)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2020-02-29

Plastics materials are used in a wide range of applications because of their properties, versatility, lightweight and price. Because of these advantages, plastic production has been growing continuously in the last years. Plastic waste coming from other sectors different from packaging reveals a lower rate of recycling. Most of these plastic containing materials are considered as not recyclable and, from the recyclable part, around 60% is exported out of the EU, which represent a significant amount of unexploited resources that could be used to produce sustainable raw materials. One of the main reasons for the low recycling rate in plastic containing materials out of the packaging sector is their heterogeneity which hinders the recyclability. These materials are normally heterogeneous materials such as composites or reinforced plastic materials (most of them having fibres, mineral fillers or other additives to improve performance) with complex structures to fulfil specific requirements. Due to this structure, these materials are difficult to re-process in an efficient way while maintaining the quality requirements, hindering therefore mechanical recycling or causing down-cycling of recycled materials. Other recycling and reuse approaches are either not economic and/or environmental favourable (e.g. chemical recycling) or valorisation rate is poor (energy valorisation).

The overall objective of POLYNSPIRE is to demonstrate a comprehensive set of innovative, cost-effective and sustainable solutions, aiming at improving the energy and resource efficiency of the recycling processes for post-consumer (after product’s end of life) and post-industrial (produced during transformation processes from raw materials to final product) plastic containing materials. To this end, three innovation pillars are demonstrated at operational environments reaching TRL 7:

A) Chemical recycling as a path to recover plastic monomers and valuable fillers (such as carbon or glass fibres) relying on microwaves-assisted organic chemistry (implying an energy consumption reduction up to 68%) and smart magnetic catalysts (which can increase efficiency around 60%).
B) Advanced additivation for mechanical recycling processes to enhance recycled plastics quality, using vitrimers, high-energy radiation and compatibilizing additives.
These two innovative recycling approaches can lead up to a direct 34% of fossil resources reduction in the case of Polyamide (PA) and 32% for Polyurethane (PU).
C) Finally, the valorisation of plastic waste as carbon source in the steel industry, could lead to reductions of around an 80% of fossil carbon sources in electric arc furnaces (EAF).

The project concept will address 100% waste containing streams ensuring the recycling of at least a 50% of total plastics containing PA and PU leading to a reduction of CO2 equivalent emissions between 30% and 40%.Furthermore, non-technological barriers such as legislative or standardization ones are also addressed at EU level and business models to integrate the aforementioned solutions in the overall plastic waste management system will be set up
To ensure the success of polynSPIRE, the project has been shaped with a robust approach, aiming at ensuring a smooth transition from TRL5 to TRL7 within the project lifetime. In particular, the project development has been divided into four main stages. The first period has covered Phase 1 and the first 6 months of Phase II:

• Phase 1: Consolidating the technologies. The main objective of this stage performed during the first year of the project was consolidating the validation in a relevant environment. As a result of this first phase all the innovative technologies have been tested at lab scale and they are ready to be scaled.
• Phase 2: Widening the scope of the technologies. The project is currently overcoming this stage where, the technologies already validated in phase 1 will be up scaled and demonstrated in a relevant environment. The objective is to cover the whole TRL6 gap. At this moment, polynSPIRE partners are hardly working to overcome this phase.

Results from lab scale performed during the first phase are quite promising but there are some challenges to overcome such us: pre-treatment of samples at larger scale, especially when managing foams, and making the overall system economically profitable in comparison to the use of conventional virgin feedstock.
According to PlasticsEurope, plastics industry involves more than 60.000 companies in Europe accounting a turnover of more than 340 B€ in 2015. Taking into account these figures, the replication potential of POLYNSPIRE is extremely high. POLYNSPIRE addresses three types of plastic materials, namely, PA, PU foams and polyolefins (mainly, PE and PP). On the one hand, for the first two types of polymers, considering their higher added value, POLYNSPIRE innovations aim at avoiding down cycling into the recycling process. To do that, innovative chemical recycling (Innovation A) and additivation for mechanical recycling (Innovation B) will be demonstrated. Nowadays, considering PA (including textiles) and PU foams around 2.14Mt of residues could be potentially treated by POLYNSPIRE technologies. Assuming a yearly growth rate of around 1.5% for PU and 7% for PA; if 50% of these residues will be successfully treated in 20 years, up to 4.4Mt/year of residue with its consequent effect of saving 44.8Mt of CO2 equivalent and 10.5Mt of oil equivalent of fossil resources per year. It means that in the time period of 20 years after POLYNSPIRE (2023-2043), the project result will contribute to increase the recycling rate in 48% and reducing landfilling in 46%, achieving these impacts in plastics that nowadays are scarcely recycled. Note that these figures are expected to increase if POLYNSPIRE technologies are extended to longer chain PA and other types of PU different from foams which can be also considered as realistic scenarios for the next 20 years.

On the other hand, regarding the innovation C, the valorisation of polyolefin as carbon source and foaming agent in the steel sector will contribute to reduce the environmental impact of both steel industry and plastic industry due to reducing the landfilling of this type of plastic waste. In this vein, considering the existence of around 200 EAF in Europe and assuming that 20% of these furnaces will implement the injector designed during POLYNSPIRE, the use of around 20% of polyolefin based waste streams would be enough to remove at least the 80% the fossil carbon sources used in this furnaces saving 8.7Mt of CO2 equivalent and 290kt of oil equivalent in terms of fossil resources. These figures mean that apart from the direct impact in the chemical and plastic industry, POLYNSPIRE will contribute to save around 5% of the CO2 equivalent emissions in the iron and steel sector

After POLYNSPIRE, the developed business plan will ensure a proper deployment of the solutions in the plastic industry and the waste management system as a whole. This database will allow interacting waste generators and recyclers. By this way, plastic converters could find good quality plastic wastes that could fulfil their expectation, avoiding therefore to use virgin material or facing with potential quality problems in their manufacturing process. The creation of this database will contribute to the achievement of a 4.0 Recycling Industry
polynSPIRE brochure side B
polynSPIRE Networking event in Istanbul
polynSPIRE logo
polynSPIRE brochure side A