ECOBULK Excels at Ecomondo

ECOBULK was once again active at the Ecomondo 2019 environmental exhibition in Rimini, Italy.

ISWA Booth - Project Presentation

Dr. Gennaro Gentile, representing ECOBULK partner Istituto dei Polimeri, Compositi e Biomateriali (IPCB), was kind enough to help present the project to the visiting crowd. He addressed the work being done by IPCB to characterise and test the new circular materials being developed in the framework of the project. Circular materials must not only fit the properties required by the products, they must also meet circular criteria in terms of reusability and recyclability. In recent years, safety factors have gained increasing interest, with significant studies aimed to underline the presence of harmful substances in waste materials and to prevent their emission during the reprocessing/recycling of specific classes of wastes. A significant barrier to plastic recycling at the moment is the highly heterogenous composition of the recovered materials, particularly in the automotive shredded residue (ASR), which includes several immiscible polymer fractions and can contain a lot of contaminants. Further work is needed to improve separation. The IPCB investigations into materials fractions coming from municipal, furniture, construction, automotive and wind turbine waste has shown that these are, in general, well suited to be used as fillers in plastic matrices, resulting in new materials with appropriate mechanical properties. Care must be taken however, since in some cases toxic and other dangerous substances may be released both during the production and the use of the materials. Further work needs to be done to ensure better separation and avoid contaminants that can hinder recycling options.

EASME Stand - Networking

The Executive Agency for Small and Medium Enterprise (EASME) hosted 40 of their currently funded projects at their stand. This way the projects could network with the visitors to the exhibition as well as promote funding opportunities for future EASME calls for projects. ECOBULK took advantage of this good opportunity to present its work as well as network with other related circular projects which were also present there. Jose Uribe from partner ISWA was at the stand to introduce visitors to the project activities and the upcoming practical demonstrations of circular approaches to bulky composite materials and products, as well as answer any specific questions.

EASME Workshop on Plastics

Discussion panels organised by EASME gave the invited projects the chance to present themselves and discuss some of their challenges and lessons learnt. ECOBULK was present at the special Session on Supporting Actions to Improve Plastics Management.  The session showcased some of the front-running EU projects funded by Horizon 2020, among other funding schemes, which developed innovative solutions for plastics waste prevention, product design and recycling. ECOBULK was represented by Dr. Enrico Mangino, from CRF (Centro Ricerche Fiat).

Enrico talked about the challenges of using recycled plastics in the automotive industry, which until now has not implemented the use of recycled materials in any driver visible parts of cars due to aesthetic reasons. ECOBULK is changing that by introducing a dual layer construction in which virgin plastic coats a recycled core in central console parts. This way the visible quality is not compromised, and by ensuring compatibility between the virgin and recycled materials, it can also still be recycled in the same way. But at the moment, the flow of recycled materials is somewhat haphazard, depending on the availability of different types of waste. As Markku Vilkki, CEO of Conenor once put it, “… today my storage is full wind turbine blades, but next week it will be plastic pipes!”.

Dr Mangino also pointed out issues with materials that come from products with longer lifespans. In the automotive industry, using plastics recovered from End-of-Life (EOL) vehicles means using plastic compounds that were produced 10 to 20 years ago. In this case, the challenge is to prove that we can work with a wide and almost unpredictable array of sources and still provide a reliable output material.  Furthermore, regularly the market and regulations are updated to reflect the recognition of additives and substances which are no longer considered safe. These considerations are clearly reflected in the earlier mentioned work by Dr. Gentile and IPCB, which is a crucial contribution to ECOBULK and all other circular economy plastics initiatives.