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An Eco-Innovative Alternative to Plywood

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ECOSHEET-PRO (An Eco-Innovative Alternative to Plywood)

Reporting period: 2018-05-01 to 2019-12-31

ECOSHEET-PRO is an eco-innovative and cost-effective alternative to plywood made from mixed plastic waste, suitable for high strength applications in the construction industry. The main scope of ECOSHEET-PRO project is to tackle two significant environmental challenges facing Europe and the world, whilst also offering added value to the construction industry.
The first issue addressed is that of mixed plastic waste. According to Plastics Europe, in 2018 in sole EU28+CH/NO, 29.1 million tons of post-consumer waste plastics were collected, of which 24,9% were landfilled and 42,6% incinerated, for a total of 19.6 million tons (Source: https://www.plasticseurope.org/en/resources/market-data - Plastics – The fact 2019, pag. 29), as they could not be easily separated and consequently recycled.
The second issue is the growth in the use of plywood, typically manufactured from slow-growing, tropical hardwoods. This material is a key, high volume commodity in construction industry formworks and an area the size of Madrid is deforested each year to meet Europe’s demand. ECOSHEET-PRO transforms mixed plastic that would otherwise be wasted into a competitive, reusable, plywood replacement, cutting down global demand for plywood and contributing to a substantial reduction in deforestation and biodiversity loss, avoiding landfilling or incinerating mixed plastics.
Previous attempts to create such boards have failed to deliver the strength or cost effectiveness required by industry. ETE and ICMA have overcome these barriers through an innovative manufacturing process which has been refined during this project. ECOSHEET-PRO has the potential to re-define the €1.8 billion European plywood industry and help Europe meet its demanding plastic recycling targets, contributing to the circular economy.
During the ECOSHEET-PRO project both partners, ICMA and ETE, have proactively collaborated to issue the planned project activities. The first RP mainly covered the manufacturing process design towards large-scale production, with the issuance of preliminary communication and dissemination activities. Many relevant technical results have been achieved: first, it has been decided to opt for a different co-extrusion system, no longer a combined solution with a co-extrusion group & flat die unit, but a multimanifold co-extrusion system which integrated into the die three separate melt distribution channel die independently adjustable. This system allows the achievement of the maximum flexibility during tests and with maximum freedom to experiment raw materials with a wide range of performances. The Advanced prototype design has also been realized considering the parameters provided in the project: production of a board with 610 mm width and 2440 mm length with a thickness of 18 mm and a minimum productivity of 100 Kg/h. A full pilot line design has been completed by ICMA, following the feedstock specification requirements identified by ETE.
During the second reported period, in some (technical) areas partners have struggled more than expected – which is the nature of innovation. In particular, partners have been working hard to complete the production of a board that meets industry standard board dimensions: 2440mm x 1220mm x 18mm flat across whole board and density of 740 kg/m3. In fact, whilst they have achieved the density criteria and the strength criteria, the full-sized boards at 18mm could not be produced in time for full demonstration. However, they have been able to display smaller samples together with technical specifications to potential end-users and have achieved their understanding of the product potential, receiving positive reactions and enthusiasm to adopt the product when ready. Project partners have finally prioritized the attendance to specialized trade fairs in order to communicate the achieved results to a specific audience of industrial stakeholders and potential customers.
ECOSHEET-PRO is a new technology capable to replace the plywood use in many fields since the recycling of heterogeneous plastics mixtures. The large-scale application of this technology determines several environmental benefits, such as the reuse of plastics wastes subtracting them to the environment (surface waters, oceans, landfills, incineration). The breakthrough consists exactly in the possibility to re-use the plastics waste mass at whole to build formworks panels without demanding expensive processes to separate the different polymers (polyesters, polypropylene, PET, PVC, etc.). This is especially valuable for the management of urban wastes streams where the separation of different polymers results expensive and resources consuming. A further benefit for the environment is conversely derived by the reduced amount of natural wood demanded for the manufacturing of panels. The ECOSHEET-PRO panel can be also reused and recycled itself. ETE foresees a large-scale uptake of ECOSHEET-PRO made panels for a broad series of applications that range from the manufacturing of formboards for construction industry as wall many other temporary architectural elements to be used for both indoor and outdoor public environments.
ICMA San Giorgio, foresees a large market uptake for the co-rotating screw technology to be used in the processing of plastic waste streams characterized by an undefined composition.
The progress beyond the state of the art is represented by the possibility to use plastic urban solid waste without demanding a separation process. Further, the panels obtained have the same proprieties of plywood thus overcoming the current non-wood alternatives for formworks use.
This technology is very relevant to foster the recycling of plastic urban waste even when more expensive polymers separation technologies are not available on site.
Overall, partners feel that the project has been a great success – although not without its issues and some gaps against what was originally imagined at the beginning. The long-term legacy outcome of the project is the expectation to see the technology be fully industrialised during 2020 with an initial factory sponsored by some large multi-national corporations, and then at least one more, maybe two, already committed following that. The future for this technology is looking very bright.
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