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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - POLYNSPIRE (Demonstration of Innovative Technologies towards a more Efficient and Sustainable Plastic Recycling)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

Most of plastic materials (specially, from sectors different from packaging) reveal a low rate of recycling 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 this type of plastic containing materials is their heterogeneity: 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, the 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 first period of the project, one of the main objectives was to consolidate 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.
Currently, the project is widening the scope of the technologies to cover the whole TRL6 gap. According to technologies developed for each innovation pilar, the following tasks were finished during second period:
• WP3 continues improving chemical reaction of PA and PU depolymerization. Also, an intermediate scale of MW reactor has been configured and installed, and specific simulations of the MW heating process was completed in order to ensure the process from power consumption perspective.
• WP4 continues improving chemical reaction for both PA and PU. In addition, the final detailed engineering of the pilot plant is finished and ready to start the following tasks of manufacturing and commissioning.
• WP5 has completed all required tasks until start integration of recovered additives and fillers into recycled materials and the demonstration stage where validating the methodology developed. Real samples are being processed.
• WP6 continues improving the composition of the plastic material waste to be used in the process as coal substitute, while injector manufacturing and their integration in the demo site pilot plant is complete. Industrial trials are now ongoing.
In addition, transversal activities related with obtained outputs from the technology development and performed trials have been performed:
• Material validation activities of obtained recycled material.
• Improvement of chemical reactions implemented for chemical recycling activities, selection of the most appropriate technique for each plastic material containing polymers. (glycolysis, acidolysis, amylolysis, or Hydroglycolysis for PU depolimerization).
• Health and Safety Manual.
• Baseline characterization LCA/LCC.
• Market analysis study.
POLYNSPIRE addresses 3 types of plastic materials: PA, PU foams and polyolefins (mainly, PE and PP). For the first 2 types of polymers, 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 20 years after POLYNSPIRE , 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.
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. 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
During project development, a sample of the interest aroused by the objectives and project innovations have been contacts and questions received from external institutions, companies, or external projects about technical tasks, processes materials, project outputs or project exploitation. A practical case has been a collaboration with Black Cycle project (Coordinated by Michelin) where a workshop and a conference is ongoing and it is foreseen continue the collaboration between projects focused on recycling under the creation of a forum or an association.
polynSPIRE brochure side B
polynSPIRE Networking event in Istanbul
polynSPIRE logo
polynSPIRE brochure side A