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Issue 07/2022 Special Edition

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  • Carbon capture
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  • Advanced recycling
  • Chemical recycling
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Highlights: Advanced Recycling Carbon Capture & Utilisation

Technology Merging

Technology Merging high-quality recycling with lowered emissions Changing the way we think about plastics is a task facing the entire value chain, but the main focus still lies where a product’s life meets its smelly end’ – on waste management. While keeping an eye on the ongoing need to reduce climate impact, we also need to broaden our recycling technology horizons. Ultimately, high-quality recycling is what is going to be needed to make the plastics economy truly circular. The Newcycling ® process APK AG was founded in 2008 with the vision of producing pure polymers with properties close to virgin plastics from mixed plastic waste, including multilayer film waste. Researchers and engineers at APK have developed a physical recycling process that combines mechanical recycling steps with a targeted solvent-based step – their Newcycling technology. Where is this process positioned on the spectrum of plastics recycling technologies? A comprehensive overview of technological innovation is badly needed in order to understand which elements each technology branch (mechanical/advanced physical or chemical) can contribute to creating a circular economy for plastics – and how these processes can complement each other. Recycling technology delineation APK’s technology is a physical (also referred to as material) recycling technology. The molecular structure of the polymer is kept intact, as is the case in standard mechanical recycling. This is the major difference in comparison to chemical processes. Recently, the delineation of innovative recycling processes has begun to become more refined and therefore clearer. The use of a solvent does not automatically designate the recycling process as being chemical. There are innovative approaches on both the physical side of the spectrum (dissolution, etc.) and on the chemical side (for example, solvolysis). Because physical, solvent-based recycling does not break down molecular chains, no energy needs to be invested in re-polymerisation – one reason for the low carbon footprint of recyclates produced via such technology. Newcycling consists of the following steps: Waste from PA/PE multi-layer film production is first mechanically pre-treated, undergoing, among other things, shredding and classification. Next, the PE layer is dissolved and liquefied in a solvent bath, leading to separation of the polymers and polymer layers. The undissolved PA is then separated from the dissolved PE using conventional solid-liquid separation technology and the polymers are subsequently further processed in separate material streams. The PA is introduced into a twin-screw extruder, where it passes through various process sections and is processed into a high-quality PA melt, using very high dispersion performance and intensive devolatilization. Finally, it is pelletized into first-class PA recyclates. Any remaining contaminants in the liquefied PE, such as degraded additives, inks, etc. are removed (purification). Then an additive package is added (re-additivation). Following pre-evaporation, the PE is likewise introduced into a twinscrew extruder, together with the solvent. There, intensive devolatilization of the liquid takes place, which has been precisely calibrated for this application so that even when PE/ solvent ratios fluctuate, first-class results will be produced. The solvent is completely volatilized and added back into the Newcycling process in a closed loop. The PE remains in the form of a homogeneous, high-quality melt, which is then pelletized. The resulting PE recyclate is of a quality similar to that of virgin plastics. In April 2021, the renowned recyclability certifier ARGE cyclos/HTP (Aachen, Germany) audited APK’s recycling facility in Merseburg, Germany, for conformance with the EuCertPlast certification scheme. The audit focussed on the suitability of APK’s plants for the recycling of postconsumer waste from plastic films as well as of waste from PE/PA multilayer film production. All test requirements were successfully fulfilled and in July 2021, ARGE cyclos/HTP awarded APK the official EuCertPlast certificate. Recycing technology delineation (© APK) 64 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/21] Vol. 16

The recyclate products The two fully commercialized recyclate products created in Merseburg are marketed as Mersalen ® (LDPE) and Mersamid ® (PA). Both recyclate types have been certified with the flustix RECYCLED sustainability seal, ensuring that they meet DIN standards for recyclate content. Mersamid PA recyclates are suitable for a number of applications – from simple dowels and cable binders to sophisticated sports gear or parts in the automotive segment. A recent example of products made with APK’s PA recyclates are the fastening hooks on outdoor equipment company VAUDE’s ReCycle pannier. For these hooks, VAUDE (Tettnang, Germany) required a recycled material that could withstand high loads under a wide variety of outdoor conditions as well as provide outstanding durability. To account for designrelevant factors, it was also necessary to ensure that the material had good colouring capability. Mersalen LDPE recyclates provide a very high level of purity and are transparent in colour. They can be used in a number of flexible packaging applications. A recent example is APK’s collaboration with Huhtamaki (Ronsberg, Germany), where recycled content was introduced into their PBL tubes. A total of 19 % of the material was replaced with recyclates from APK. The tubes are suitable for such applications as facial and body cosmetics. Moreover, the PBL tubes, including recycled content, have been certified recyclable by EuCertPlast. When it comes to climate impact, the carbon footprint of APK’s recyclates is an average of 66 % lower than that of their virgin plastics version. The future: scaling Newcycling across the EU Based on its industrial-scale plant in Merseburg and its successfully commercialized products, APK is planning to scale its Newcycling technology across the EMEA region. Newcycling technology is able to valorize a broad feedstock base, including post-industrial and post-consumer sources, whether in the form of multilayer film waste or mixed unsorted plastic streams. In collaboration with initial partners from the plastics industry, planning is underway for the construction of additional plants for the processing of post-consumer waste in the very near future. With an initial focus on LDPE, APK is already working on additional recyclate solutions, such as PP, HDPE, and other PCR streams. By: Hagen Hanel Head of Plastics Recycling Innovation Center APK AG. Merseburg, Germany Product examples – Mersalen: Huhtamaki PBL tube, 2020 (top right) Mersamid, VAUDE pannier, 2021 (bottom). Mersalen (LDPE) recyclate produced with APK’s Newcycling technology Technology Newcycling – the closest loop back into packaging (© APK) bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/21] Vol. 16 65

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