Plastic waste and improper handling of it lead to global environmental problems. Packaging plastics are particularly problematic if they are not fed back into a further cycle of use. In the completed research project “UpcyclePET”, Fraunhofer LBF, together with EASICOMP GmbH, an expert for long glass fiber reinforced thermoplastics, developed a new material based on used beverage bottles made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate). This new and sustainable material has mechanical properties that are similar to those of short glass fiber reinforced plastics such as short glass fiber reinforced polyesters or polyamides. The demonstrator component made from the new material is also characterized by low shrinkage and particularly high dimensional accuracy. In addition, the material has a significantly improved CO2 footprint, as the project partner Öko-Institut has determined in an orientating life cycle analysis. Equipped with these properties, the new materials have a high potential, especially for larger components in technical applications, such as in automobiles, in furniture or in the construction sector.
“The research project has shown where there are limits and where there is still considerable potential,” explains Dr. Tapio Harmia, managing director of EASICOMP. “The special requirements of process chains with secondary raw materials, such as reliable and predictable availability in terms of quantity and quality, must be particularly taken into account,” adds Dr. Volker Strubel, project coordinator. »Holistic solutions for high-quality recycling and upcycling are often industry and application-specific. They therefore require players along the value chain, such as processors, designers and users, to be involved in developments at an early stage, “explains Dr. Frank Schönberger, Head of the “Polymer Synthesis” department at Fraunhofer LBF.
Follow-up project explores quality improvement in PET material flows In the follow-up project “UpcyclePETPlus” the core partners with the disposal company Jakob Becker and the specialist for injection molded components, KS Innovation, will face two further central challenges in order to develop economically attractive and sustainable upcycling solutions. On the one hand, secondary material flows are addressed that result in significantly lower quality and high quality fluctuations, such as PET-rich fractions of the dual system, which today cannot essentially be recycled. Separation and cleaning processes to improve the quality of the PET material flows are therefore applied and further developed in the project. On the other hand, the project partners have set themselves the goal of optimally designing the interface between material development and the component manufacturing process. For example, LFT materials are developed on selected PET material flows through tailor-made blending and additives. Finally, the influence and interaction of fiber length, fiber and recyclate content as well as the additives are specifically examined with a view to the application-oriented properties of the manufactured component and the injection molding process used for this is optimized. The aim of “UpcyclePETPlus” is to develop the previously non-recyclable components of PET packaging waste for high-quality technical applications. The process to be newly developed is intended to make an important contribution to the recycling economy for packaging plastics and to improve the resource and climate efficiency of the plastics-using industry.