Research focuses on the recycling of materials

With the establishment of the “Circular Plastics Economy” cluster, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has set itself ambitious goals. It wants to position itself as a central point of contact for technological and systemic questions in the transformation to the Circular Economy.

Circular Plastics Economy is the name of a new Fraunhofer Cluster of Excellence consisting of five Fraunhofer Institutes. Using plastics as an example, it will be shown in concrete terms how the energy and material flows of a recycling chain can be transformed into a circular economy. The project will be accompanied by the development of the necessary system services with and for the plastics industry, including the consumer goods and trading companies associated with it, as well as the recycling industry. One goal of the initiative is to reduce the amount of environmentally polluting plastic waste through a different way of doing business with plastics.

“Prof. Dr. Eckhard Weidner, head of the Fraunhofer Institute UMSICHT and the new cluster, explains: “With the cluster, we want to establish research and development platforms to enable the entire plastics value chain to change from linear to circular management. We will develop prototypes for new plastics, additives and compounds and use reusable packaging for online retailing and child car seats to demonstrate what products with circular properties look like. The recycling of materials and raw materials will be strengthened by means of advanced technologies and digital systems. This also includes digitally tracking materials and products throughout their life cycle so that producers and recyclers can make faster and better decisions about effective recycling options. All according to the principles of the circular economy”.

Interlocking research and business models

The relevant research should be geared to the needs of the market and society, which is why the cluster wants to involve all players from the plastics producing and processing industry, consumer goods and trading companies to the recycling industry and service providers at an early stage. A circular assessment will help to evaluate the circular properties of products and thus determine the direction for innovation. In concrete terms, interdisciplinary teams in the areas of “Materials”, “Systems” and “Business”, according to the Plan, will interlink research and business models.

The fundamental goal of all this is to create a circular economy. According to the Cluster of Excellence, this is characterised by the fact that the substances used remain in a material cycle beyond the life cycle of goods. Waste, emissions, dissipative losses and thus also the extraction of raw materials from the environment are to be reduced as far as possible. Important elements for the implementation of a circular economy are the reuse and re-use of goods, the recycling of materials and substances as well as the design of the goods, which enables a cycle without losses in quality. The concept of the Circular Economy is said to be equally applicable to regions, industries, companies or individual goods.

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