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PLASTtics to be CLEANED by sorting and separation of plastics and subsequent recycling of polymers, bromine flame retardants and antimony trioxide

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PLAST2bCLEANED (PLASTtics to be CLEANED by sorting and separation of plastics and subsequent recycling of polymers, bromine flame retardants and antimony trioxide)

Período documentado: 2020-12-01 hasta 2022-05-31

In 2020, 11 million tonnes of Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) are generated in Europe containing 25 wt% of plastics. Due to the growing number of electronics sold and decreasing product life spans, this waste stream is predicted to continue to grow in the following years. WEEE plastics often contain undesired additives that hamper recycling in Europe. WEEE plastics containing brominated flame retardants as additives are currently incinerated or landfilled. Hence for WEEE plastics a closed loop solution is needed. PLAST2bCLEANED’s aim is to develop a human and environmental safe recycling process for WEEE plastics in a technically feasible and economically viable manner. Three material loops will be closed: (1) polymer; (2), bromine fraction; and (3) antimony trioxide fraction.

Key technologies developed within the project are: (1) improved sorting of HIPS and ABS that contain BFR from other polystyrene and ABS fractions; (2) dissolution of WEEE plastics in superheated solvents; (3) separation of additives to concentrate brominated flame retardants (BFR) and antimony trioxide (ATO) fractions for recycling; (4) energy efficient recovery of solvent and of polymer. The developed technology will be integrated in a pilot facility with capacity of TRL 5-6 delivering polymer samples that are tested in real life products. An environmental and economic assessment is performed to show the sustainability and economic viability of the process.

The overall concept of PLAST2bCLEANED consists of five steps (Figure 1):
• Step 1: The development of a mechanical presorting technology using LIBS/RAMAN spectroscopy
• Step 2: The development of the dissolution technology under superheated conditions thus closing three loops: 1) the polymer, 2) the bromine, and 3) the antimony trioxide
• Step 3: Process integration and scale-up of the technology in a pilot plant at TRL 5/6 to produce kg-scale polymer samples
• Step 4: Performance testing by evaluation of composition and properties of the recycled polymer that are relevant for re-use in electronic goods.
• Step 5: Economic and environmental impact assessment to prove the economic viability and environmental sustainability of the solution compared to current treatments.
The development of the recycling process will be done iteratively in several interactive design cycles in order to arrive at an optimal solution.
In general the PLAST2bCLEANED project is well on-track. All the deliverables of the second period were submitted. There are no major deviations.
Main results in de second reporting period are:
1. First lab-scale Raman classification tests are performed by matching WEEE samples with the spectral library created in the previous period, but classification is low due to background interference or fluorescence. Artificial Neural Networks (ANN) gives the highest accuracy for sorting the target polymers from a WEEE stream containing 50% black samples.
2. The full dissolution process was successfully demonstrated at lab scale (100 g) for both reference HIPS and ABS samples as well as for sorted HiPS samples from real WEEE waste.
3. The piping and instrumentation diagram of the scale-up process has been finalized including operating procedures and safety and hazard studies.
4. The data collection methodology for the final environment and economic assessment has been finalized and the methodology is synchronized with the two EU Horizon 2020 projects NON-TOX and CREAToR.
5. PLAST2bCLEANED has collaborated with the projects EU Horizon 2020 projects NONTOX, CREATOR, CIRCULAR FLOORING, and REACT, resulting in a joint flyer, policy brief, as well as a joint webinar.

PLAST2bCLEANED was presented at 9 conferences and 1 trade fair. A project video was produced which had over 340 views. 3 Newsletters were submitted. PLAST2bCLEANED has 367 and 47 followers on LinkedIn and Twitter, respectively. Furthermore, an exploitation plan was made and four exploitable results were identified.
PLAST2bCLEANED will result in improved chemical recycling processes for plastic waste that contain additives and contaminants. Hazardous substances will be separated in an innovative dissolution process and treated in such a way that the residual hazardous fractions are treated safely. By developing an automatic sorting process to separate plastics without additives from plastics with additives, the most appropriate chemical recycling process can be applied.

As a result, recycling rates are expected to increase 8%, i.e. 24,000 tons/year, thereby decreasing landfill and incineration rates, and thus decreasing environmental health risks due to a potential release of toxic substances. The plastics will become available as a secondary material, thus decreasing the production of virgin fossil-based plastics more or less with the same amount. Bromine and antimony are also targeted for recycling, thus strongly reducing the release or landfill of potentially toxic additives; about 2,500 tons of bromine are recycled and 1,000 tons of antimony. In a first scan, it was shown that PLAST2bCLEANED’s recycled ABS and HIPS (rABS and rHIPS) have equal or lower CO2 eq emissions than the virgin production according to ecoinvent and PlasticsEurope, respectively. Additional increase in the environmental impact is obtained upon closing the BFR and ATO loop.

Current results on Life Cycle Costing show total costs for WEEE plastics recycling using PLAST2BCLEANED process leads to net revenues. In addition, revenues for Bromine and ATO recycling are expected. In the same principle, Life Cycle Assessment of the combined sorting and the dissolution process leads to net savings of CO2eq/kg of valuable products.

Several legal and regulatory barriers can prevent a successful introduction of a new technology. The most relevant ones are described in a joint policy letter from the H2020 project NONTOX, Circular Flooring, CREAToR, PLAST2bCLEANED and REACT, see

Main barriers identified are:
• Transitioning to a circular economy.
• Lack of incentives for plastic collection and recycling.
• Lack of End-of-Waste criteria.
• Change of regulations and legislation

PLAST2bCLEANED's key exploitable results are:
• Polymer sorting via LIBS/RAMAN spectroscopy;
• Novel polymer recycling technology based on dissolution under superheated conditions;
• Novel antimony oxide (ATO) and bromine (BR) recycling based on dissolution under superheated conditions;
• Open access facility for the recycling of polymers, bromine and antimony trioxide fractions from secondary plastics from WEEE products.

The technology to be developed for WEEE plastic is expected to be applicable for other contaminated plastic wastes as well, such as plastics from the sectors Packaging, Automotive and Building & Infrastructure.
Figure 1: Overall concept of the PLAST2bCLEANED project