With the Future Award, the Palatinate District Association honors projects in the fields of environmental science, natural science, humanities or social science, technology or business.
Decisive factors for the selection of the award winners include the degree of creativity, novelty, feasibility and market potential of the project. In addition, the achievements or services have a unique selling point and bring real improvements or progress compared to current processes. Furthermore, the projects should bring benefits to society, for example by optimizing the use of resources or improving the quality of life, and reconcile ecological, economic and social aspects.
The award ceremony of the prize at the Fraunhofer ITWM Kaiserslautern
The jury saw all these characteristics in the All-Polymer project and awarded our project team as a finalist for the main prize “Zukunftspreis Pfalz 2022”.The award ceremony took place on 25.11.2022 in a festive setting at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Mathematics (ITWM) in Kaiserslautern.
Framed by modern and classical arrangements by trumpet and harp, student recognitions and the young talent prize were awarded first. Then the four finalists of the main prize were presented and the winner was announced. We congratulate Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Reiser for the award and thank the Bezirksverband Pfalz for the nomination!
The award-winning project, on which the companies A+ Composites, Hahn Kunststoffe, the Infinex Group as well as the Technical University of Kaiserslautern and the University of Koblenz-Landau conducted research for three years, addressed the pressing question of how to make fiber-reinforced plastics fully recyclable and thus save precious resources and avoid plastic waste.
Recycling of fiber-reinforced plastics
Around 26 million tons of plastic waste are generated in the EU every year, of which less than 30% is collected for recycling. Accordingly, there is a great need to increase the resource efficiency of plastics and to help recyclates gain more use. However, primary plastics often cannot simply be replaced by recyclates, which are also called secondary plastics. Recycled plastics are generally less efficient than virgin materials. An obvious solution is to upgrade secondary plastics with thermoplastic fiber composites so that they have the same performance as new materials. But these are often not recyclable, so once they are used they are no longer recyclable.
This is where the All-Polymer project started. The aim of the project is to develop fully recyclable fiber-reinforced plastic products so that primary plastics can be replaced by secondary plastics and recyclates can be used for new applications.
To achieve these goals, prototypes were produced from the three major sectors of the plastics industry – packaging, construction and automotive – which were upgraded with suitable fiber-reinforced plastic tapes. The advantage of these so-called UD tapes is that they allow great savings with low material usage and offer a lot of flexibility in the choice of application. The development of the prototypes was completed by material and sustainability studies, so that a holistic view was taken in the project.
Prototypes from the packaging, construction and automotive industries
A volume-reducible container from Infinex Holding GmbH was selected as a prototype from the packaging industry. When unloaded, the container can be folded in such a way that five folded containers fit in the space of one full container for the empty run.
All-polymer should now also make the material this container is made of circular. A life cycle analysis has shown that a plastic container used in several runs is already ecologically advantageous after 18 runs compared to disposable containers made of corrugated board. It is assumed that a container will make more than twice as many runs on average.
The plank from Hahn Kunststoffe GmbH, which already consists entirely of recyclable waste, was selected as a prototype from the construction industry for the all-polymer project. The planks are mounted on substructures.
Due to the improved strength provided by the UD tapes, it is possible to increase the support spacing and thus open up new fields of application and save on beams needed for installation.
As an associated partner, Roechling Automotive SE & Co KG provided the prototype from the automotive industry.
The basic idea of the underbody structure investigated was to compensate for the performance loss of the components with recycled material by using glass fiber-reinforced tapes and, in addition, to reduce the previous proportion of glass long fibers by using UD tapes. The project has shown that the use of UD tapes leads to significant performance improvements. When 40% recyclate is used in the part and reinforced with UD tapes, the part still has 40% to 100% better performance characteristics than underbody structures made entirely from virgin plastic.
Results that shape the future
Significant improvements in the technical parameters of the prototypes made from recycled material were achieved in the project. Thus, the main objective of the project, to add value to secondary plastics, was achieved. The process and material developments have also shown that the prototypes can be transferred to series applications that are not only transferable to the applications and industries considered in the project, but can also be used in many other applications in the plastics industry.
The All-Polymer project is a great asset for the Palatinate region, as the innovative and sustainable product developments from the research work in All-Polymer will secure the future of the Palatinate region as a production and research location for sustainable plastics processing, and science and companies from the region will work directly on implementable solutions for the conservation of our natural environment and the efficient use of existing resources.
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