Recycling of multilayer laminate films

The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging starts the “Circular Packaging” project: Plastic packaging waste is recycled in an industrial plant.

Plastic packaging has to meet high requirements. This is why they often consist of multi-layer laminate films. Until now, there was no suitable recycling process for this complex system of different materials. The Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV explains that recycling into high-quality and pure polymers has not been possible until now.  At the end of 2018, it launched the “Circular Packaging” project: a demonstration plant is being built on an industrial scale. Packaging waste can be recycled so gently in this plant that it is suitable for reuse as high-quality packaging materials. The CreaSolv process developed at the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV forms the basis for this. CreaSolv is a registered trademark of CreaCycle GmbH.

Multilayer laminate films are frequently used in plastic packaging. These consist of various polymers such as PE/PA or PP/PET as well as aluminium layers. Such composite materials fulfil functions that monomaterials do not offer. One example of this is the effective protection of food and consumer goods from light or oxygen. Recycling, however, requires the individual materials of the packaging to be separated. This is not yet possible, which is why such a waste stream is not considered recyclable and is thermally recovered. “With the development of the solvent-based CreaSolv process, a clean separation of plastic composites and contaminated household waste was achieved for the first time. This technology is suitable for the production of high-quality, high-purity plastics with virgin material quality. Odours and impurities are also safely eliminated,” explains the institute. The CreaSolv process is currently available on a pilot plant scale. In the “Circular Packaging” project, the process is now being implemented and operated with a plant geared to economic efficiency. The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a sum of around 3.2 million euros.

In three project phases to the industrial recycling plant

The project will initially start with the construction of a fully interconnected CreaSolv pilot plant tailored to the focused waste stream. The PE and PP components from film waste are extracted and recovered separately from each other. This will be followed by industrial-scale transfer to a commercially viable demonstration plant with a daily processing capacity of up to one truckload of packaging waste. After commissioning, extensive tests will follow in the third project phase. They serve to prove the economic efficiency and the raw material efficiency. Product sample quantities are generated and tested in cooperation with potential buyers of the granulate for market evaluation. This is accompanied by the acquisition and conditioning of relevant waste and the compounding of the recycled materials into high-quality products.

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The partners of this project are Lober GmbH & Co. Abfallentsorgungs KG, Neunburg vorm Wald, LÖMI GmbH, Großostheim and the Fraunhofer IVV, Freising. The project will be coordinated by Lober, who will act as the future operator of the demonstration plant. The Fraunhofer IVV as process provider accompanies the project through all phases of the scale-up. The project partner LÖMI supplies the plant components for solvent-based manufacturing processes. Together with the Fraunhofer IVV, LÖMI has already developed process units for the secured pilot plant scale.

The project takes an important step towards the “circular economy” and meets the challenges of the new packaging law. The network coordinator Lober will be in a position to operate the first commercial CreaSolv plant for post-consumer packaging plastics in Europe with strong sales from 2021. In addition, Lober plans to set up a competence center for solvent-based recycling. The aim is to use the technology in the future to recycle other wastes and to return the valuable polymer materials contained in them to a new product life cycle. The plant manufacturer LÖMI will use the project results to design further recycling plants. Interested investors are to be approached specifically for this purpose. The Fraunhofer IVV is also planning to grant further process licenses to operators of CreaSolv technology in the German, European and global environment.

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