Newsletter 5

As the world attempts to gain control over the pandemic, our project reaches the end of its third year. The crisis has caused some delays, but the work can and will continue. Read on to find out what has been going on in the project before and during the virus.

In this newsletter:

  1. Thoughts on COVID-19
  2. Project Update
  3. Past events
  4. Future plans

1. Thoughts on COVID-19

As everyone else, our consortium members have been under lock-down and working from home where possible. This has not been easy considering the need to get the prototypes built and tested, as well as the necessary lab work. Essentially, work on the demonstrations has been paused while the virus plays itself out. This will require some flexibility, but the consortium will adjust, and the project will continue at full speed as soon as it is safe to do so.

But the effects of the Corona Virus will go further than just the current health crisis. What those effects may be is difficult to predict, but it is important to consider the possibilities so that we can be more thoughtful in our responses to the upcoming challenges and changes.

The last few years have seen tremendous progress towards new circular approaches that are based on resource conservation, which could be argued is a function of the world’s constant growth past the limits of its long-term resource and renewal capacity. From an economic perspective, circular approaches tend to find it difficult to compete with traditional linear value chains even under normal circumstances. So what about in the post pandemic world?

Health and hygiene concerns have already pushed the hard-fought bans on single use plastics into controversy, with widespread calls to reverse these policies. Lower industrial activity levels have also helped to reduce oil prices to such an extent that for a day they were actually negative. Can circular plastics still compete with linear plastics when the raw materials and energy costs drop so significantly, increasing the price difference between virgin and recycled to unacceptable levels – particularly in a crisis. Recycled plastics already have an aesthetic disadvantage compared to virgin materials, but now there is also a possibility that the public opinion will shift away from reuse, rightly or wrongly considering it hygiene risk.

In the short term we must accept without question the necessary measures to keep the public healthy and safe. But things that were important before the crisis will still be important after the crisis. And the deteriorating wellbeing of the planet is also fast becoming a direct threat to our own health. There are already some estimates that the number of people saved by the improved environmental situation arising from lower production might outstrip the loss of human life to the virus.

In the long term there is plenty of work to do. The question for policy makers as they scramble to put together plans to restart stimulate economies, is what kind of an economy do we want to rebuild? The easy option would be to invest in business as usual, go back to where were before. But if we must restart anyway, why not rebuild a more resilient and sustainable economy now. Circular resource management is the only way we can ensure our long-term wellbeing without massively reducing consumption and our standard of living in the traditional linear model.

2. Project Update

The EcoBulk consortium met last in Pozzuoli, kindly hosted by partner IPCB-CNR. The aim of the meeting was mainly to discuss the plans and progress towards the implementation of the demonstrators, which are due to be in place in 2020. Following the three chosen industries, each partner presented their work towards their respective demonstrations.

M30 Consortium Meeting in Pozzuoli
The EcoBulk team at the IPCB-CNR labs in Pozzuoli

Furniture Industry

Moretti have been refining their modular furniture concept. Several improvements have been made to the original concept after testing. The original design used screws and glue to hold the elements together but using the fastener tool they have found a suitable replacement plastic mechanical fastener which makes disassembly much easier and economical. The upholstery for the seats will use Velcro to attach for ease of maintenance and refurbishment.

The modular furniture units will be demonstrated at Warwick University and Coventry University in the UK, at the University of Camerino in Italy, and at the Lipor offices in Portugal. They will be used for student accommodation furniture as well as general office use. For office purposes, Moretti will be producing a bigger unit (50cm cube) to create a bigger desk surface.

Moretti Compact Module Furniture Bedroom
Moretti modular furniture prototypes
Particleboard with the new binders and increased recycled materials

To further improve the circularity of the furniture, new particleboards have been formulated to increase the amount of recycled particle board they may contain. Usually there is a limit of how much recycled particleboard can be used due to the formaldehyde emissions which must be avoided. By using new binders developed by AkzoNobel, KEAS Kastamonu has been able to produce new boards that include up to 50% recycled particleboard – which compared to the standard 25% currently used in Italy by Moretti is a huge step forward. Cranfield has been experimenting with bio-based binder resins that can use 100% recycled particle board but only for one cycle.

Automotive Industry

MAIER has finished production of the test injection mould and is now able to produce samples for their dual layer central fascia component concept. This is where the fascia component will have a virgin material front side for aesthetic purposes and a circular back side from recycled materials. The production has been set up as a fully automated production line in the same way normal parts would be produced.

MAIER will be testing the produced components and validating its ability to re-manufacture the same component using the same materials through several cycles of EOL recovery. The fascia components will be on display in their showroom so that their clients can be informed of the developments towards a more circular approach to automotive components.

Central fascia concept on display at the Maier showroom

MicroCab has continued its development of the new vehicle life extension model by maintaining ownership and providing the vehicle as a service. Their model includes regular maintenance and refurbishment, so it not only maintains the original function but also maintains the value by ensuring that aged components are replaced to keep the vehicle in top condition.

The MicroCab 20 year vehicle lifecycle breaks down the expected longevity of subsystems and schedules timely replacement and refurbishment.

The lifecycle of the vehicle has been analysed based on the expectations for each constituent part. In this way, a schedule can be made for the timely and preventive replacement of parts to keep the vehicle not only in working order, but also at a high economic value through refurbishments. Oakdene Hollins conducted a comparison in total cost of ownership, per mile, between this model and a standard lease model for a comparable small internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. The initial cost of production for the MicroCab vehicle is very high compared to the ICE model, but even so over a 20 year life-span the cost per mile evens out and becomes competitive. Even at parity costs, the MicroCab concept should prove to be more valuable in the long run as the initial cost of production can be drastically reduced if done at scale, and also because the ICE model needs to be fully replaced in 10 years which comes with other environmental costs currently unaccounted for in the model.

MicroCab will also integrate EcoBulk materials into its assemblies. They will use a compression moulded dashboard fascia switch module which will be using the natural jute LFT pellets being produced by Coventive. They are testing the PLA based materials that could replace commercial ABS parts. Finally they are also looking to integrate the airlaid non-wovens developed by NTT for NVH purposes (Noise/Vibration/Hardness). They have good thermal insulation properties which is useful in electric vehicles which do not generate much spare heat like ICE vehicles.

Construction Industry

Conenor has continued to perfect its agglomeration process to create materials that can be extruded into construction products for the demonstrations. This process also might be able to provide materials that can be compounded into pellets for injection moulding, AIMPLAS will be conducting tests for that. The multi-layer extrusion products will be demonstrated in several places across Europe by the EcoBulk partners. Designs have been completed for a variety of outdoor constructions according to the local needs, and production of the required products has started.

The demonstrators should be assembled and ready for use an testing by the summer of 2020 at the latest. Each demonstration will be tested according to its function as well as its circular potential. This will include performance in durability and resistance, but also human factors like comfort and aesthetic factors. As part of the tracking system for materials for future re-manufcturing, the products will also be foreseen with a QR code that will link to the Decision Support System (DSS) which will be able to specify the materials and circular options available for the product.

To prove the circularity of the new materials, it is necessary to return some of the products back for remanufacturing and further testing. After one year in demonstration, the chosen installations in three different climate conditions (Lipor-PT /  Warwick-UK / KymiRing-FI) will be disassembled
and the components sent back for remanufacturing at Conenor. Received components will be downsized by shredding and then  remanufactured by
extrusion. The new test specimens will be sent to IPCB-CNR for mechanical testing. Based on observed processing performance, the formulation might change with extra added plastics or other additives to try to maintain the same performance of the original materials.

Next Steps

The next steps are somewhat uncertain. The Demonstrators have been delayed due to the current situation, but we fully expect they will all be ready in the second half of this year. Please refer back to the website, or follow the project through our newsletter and social media to keep up to date with the latest developments. If you would like to know more about any of the demonstrations for the project please contact us!

3. Past Events

Ecomondo 2019

ECOBULK was once again active at the Ecomondo 2019 environmental exhibition in Rimini, Italy. The activities included presentations at the ISWA booth, representation of the project at the EASME stand and a discussion panel on plastics management. Dr. Gennaro Gentile, representing EcoBulk partner Istituto dei Polimeri, Compositi e Biomateriali (IPCB), was kind enough to help present the project and addressed the work being done by IPCB to characterise and test the new circular materials being developed in the framework of the project.

At the Session on Supporting Actions to Improve Plastics Management, showcasing some of the front-running EU projects funded by Horizon 2020, Dr Enrico Mangino from CRF (Centro Ricerche Fiat) talked about the challenges of using recycled plastics in the automotive industry. Until now these have not been implemented in any driver visible parts of cars mostly due to aesthetic reasons. EcoBulk is changing that with a dual layer construction in which virgin plastic coats a recycled core. By using only compatible materials, these can still be recycled.

AMI Windturbine Blade Manufacture 2019

Markku Vilkki, from Conenor, presented a paper at the latest edition of the AMI Windturbine Blade Manufacture event in Dusseldorf. His presentation titled “Volume opportunities for remanufacturing GFRP-waste” included the work done in the project to create new materials from turbine blades and then using those to build light weight outdoor constructions such as benches, shelters and even an information cabin for the KymiRing motorsport park in Finland.

Plate 2019

Jelle Joustra from TUDelft was at the Product Lifetimes and the Environment (PLATE) 2019 conference in Berlin. He presented a paper titled “Circular Design of Composite Products – A Preliminary Framework Based on Insights from Literature and Industry” which was a direct result from the EcoBulk design workshops in Koblenz.

4. Future Plans

The future of physical events is uncertain. In fact we have already had to cancel plans and postpone several plans.  The IFAT Exhibition in Munich in May was cancelled, the Recomp conference has been postponed to November 24th and 25th in Warwick, UK. The conference will feature Marku Vilkki from Conenor and Jelle Joustra from TUDelft. Click on the link to find out more.

At Recomp, Markku Wilkki and Jelle Joustra will talk about using windturbine blades in new products.

We are looking now for alternative digital events to showcase the progress of the project and will be getting back to you soon with more information about online events.

In the meantime –

Stay tuned – Stay safe.

The EcoBulk team.