RESEARCH ARTICLE


The W2Plastics Project: Exploring the Limits of Polymer Separation



F. Di Maio*, 1, P. Rem1, B. Hu1, S. Serranti2, G. Bonifazi2
1 Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Section Materials and Environment / Recycling Technology, Stevinweg 1, 2628 CN, The Netherlands
2 Department of Chemical Engineering Materials & Environment, Sapienza University of Rome, Via Eudossiana 18, 00184, Rome, Italy


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© 2010 Di Maio et al.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/legalcode. This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Delft University of Technology, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, Section Materials and Environment / Recycling Technology, Stevinweg 1, 2628 CN, The Netherlands; Tel: +31 15 27 83688; Fax: +31 15 27 82460; E-mail: f.dimaio@tudelft.nl


Abstract

The efficient large-scale recycling of plastic waste is of increasing interest from an ecological and economic point of view but it represents a goal that has yet to be achieved by the recycling industry. The W2Plastics project aims at a fundamental change of the present status of plastics recycling by creating a breakthrough technology for the recycling of polyolefin’s from complex wastes, i.e., wastes such as Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), Construction and Demolition Waste (CDW), household waste and Automotive Shredder Residue (ASR). Polyolefin’s are a very important family of polymers, constituting more than a third of the total plastics consumption in Europe (EU) and complex wastes provide the vastest, presently unused potential resource of secondary polyolefin’s. In spite of that, Polyolefin’s (PP, LDPE, HDPE) are the least recycled plastics materials. Only one million ton out of 14 million tons yearly sold in EU is being recycled. Nowadays, Polyolefin recyclers focus mainly on the relatively pure post-industrial or single-product wastes, since these wastes can be made into high-purity product materials by existing and cost-effective process technology. Post-industrial wastes are increasingly exported outside the EU, however, and so the Polyolefin recycling industry and their end-users are forced to look for alternative resources. In principle, post-consumer wastes, such as WEEE, CDW, household waste and ASR provide such a resource. They are a five to ten times larger reservoir of polyolefin’s than do post-industrial wastes, but these wastes are also much more complex mixtures of materials and hence much more difficult to recycle. Technologies that are to address these resources need to be extremely powerful, since they must be relatively simple to be cost-effective, but also accurate enough to create high-purity products and able to valorise a substantial fraction of the materials that are present in the waste into useful products of consistent quality in order to be economical. The European FP7 Project: W2Plastics is developing a number of novel concepts, in particular Magnetic Density Separation (MDS) and Ultrasound process and quality control by HyperSpectral Imaging (HSI), into a new technology to recover high-purity polyolefin’s from complex wastes at low cost. The unique promise of this new concept derives from its ability to accurately separate many different materials in a single process step, resulting in an environmentally friendly and cheap process.

Keywords: Polymer, recycling, magnetic density separation, ultrasounds, hyperspectral.