Employing the help of a new value-added process, new goods can be replaced by quality recyclates in a technically and economically sensible way.
Interview with Matthias Katschnig, Plastics Engineer:
Matthias Katschnig studied plastics technology and industrial management at Montanuniversität Leoben. He is currently writing his dissertation at the chair of plastics processing. One of his research foci is plastics upcycling.
What can material recycling of plastics achieve?
Secondary raw materials in the plastics sector have so far barely been used in high-quality products due to the quality requirements. Our goal is to keep valuable plastics in the product cycle as long as possible and to manufacture functional components entirely from recycled material. This enables us to achieve a significant reduction in CO2 emissions and high resource efficiency, because the plastic does not have to be manufactured again at great expense. An important requirement in this process is cost saving, only then can one actually speak of sustainability on a social, ecological and economic level.
What does the upcycling process look like?
In the course of the Rec2TecPart research project we were able to prove that virgin material can be replaced by recycled material entirely sensibly from a technical and economical perspective. We have demonstrated this using the plastic streams of three products: an automotive interior part, a stamp and a multi-layer film. The process looks like this: We start with the market’s requirements, define what a product needs and only then tap into the adequate secondary ‘post-industrial’ and post-consumer’ material sources for the customised, high-quality material RecHQ. This is the only way to know that we can work eco- nomically.
What results has research led to?
We have made it all the way to industrial implementation with the upcycling of the plastic POM. Together with the plastics processor Thermoplastkreislauf and product manufacturer Trodat, we have brought a stamp entirely made from quality recycled material to series production maturity. One million units are now produced in a CO2 -neutral way every year. That’s a great achievement. Every kilo of plastic that does not have to be produced saves around two to four kilos of CO2.
What other possibilities do these insights open up?
We are already going one step further. In the framework of our latest research project called Tex2Mat we are trying to dissolve plastic fibres from textiles, granulate them and make them suitable for spinning again to allow these fibres to be incorporated into textiles again. Clothes shall thus become clothes again. The use of PET from bottles for textiles is already being practised, after all. But our approach is completely new.