PUR4UP :  Finally a future for plastics

The Pur4Up project supported by the Walloon competitiveness clusters Mecatech (mechanical engineering) and Greenwin (chemistry and materials) aims to design new finished products incorporating high-quality recycled plastics from end-of-life vehicles (ELV) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). 

Stakeholders in the project

Pur4Up brings together the industrialists Comet Traitment and Eloy Water as well as the University of Liege and Certech. The project is also being followed by Bosch/Siemens and the Fiat Group Research Centre, which see opportunities both in terms of raw materials (plastic to be recycled) and in terms of diversification for the product of the research, which could supply the automotive and household appliance sectors.

The issue of plastics

The consumption of plastics is increasing while their recycling is still limited. At present, only 10% of plastics are produced from recycled materials. Primary production generates 400 million tonnes of GHGs per year. By 2050, fossil fuel-based plastics production is projected to increase global oil consumption by 20% and carbon emissions by 15%.

A fast-growing industrial ecosystem – the European recycling industry – is working to address these issues. However, the low quality of recycled plastics compared to virgin materials remains the major obstacle to their use in greater quantities. Sufficient qualities (uniformity, strength, etc) must be achieved from a wide variety of used plastics and then manufacturers must be persuaded to incorporate these plastics into their production lines.

Recycled plastics can only be used in lower value applications (« downcycling »). As a result, a lot of plastics are still landfilled or incinerated, a waste of resources and a major cause of pollution.
Stop the downcycling phenomenon which leads to recycled materials being used to make lower value products
The market for wastewater treatment plants has developed considerably, with a growing number of treatment technologies based on plastic components.

The environmental impact will be significant as nearly 21,000 tonnes of thermoplastic material will be diverted from landfill each year in Wallonia’s wastewater treatment plants.

Role of each partner

ULiège participates to PUR4UP through its GeMMe Research Unit specialized in georesources, mineral engineering and extractive metallurgy.

The GeMMe team will take the lead on two Workpackages. The first aims to provide a tool for the quantitative characterisation of ground plastic mixtures. This is the core of the quality control system of the plastic recycling chain. The second work package will consist of developing an intelligent plastic sorting system.

Behind these two objectives lie two major challenges. The first is the detection of black plastics, which is still an unsolved challenge, or at least one that does not allow sufficient purity to be obtained. The difficulty of this detection comes from the presence of carbon blacks which absorb all the energy of the radiation emitted in the infrared. In order to solve this problem, GeMMe will combine the use of a hyperspectral camera and a Terahertz sensor. The latter has shown interesting results for the detection of black plastics. However, it is still an immature technology, still in the development phase.

The second Workpackage, involving intelligent sorting, raises another challenging point, which is free-fall sorting. Indeed, given the low recovery of plastics, the required throughputs must be high, which is why free-fall is a more than considered solution. However, this requires numerous arrangements due to the volatility of the parts and also the number of families to be sorted.

Comet Traitements will combine different separation, purification and quality monitoring techniques in the form of an original industrial demonstration pilot unit. This unit will produce recycled plastics (ABS, PS, PP, PE and Engineering Plastics such as PA, ABS/PC, etc.) of high purity (>98%) to meet the quality requirements set by European plastics processors and, in this way, counteract the phenomenon of « downcycling »

Comet is located at the source of plastics to be recycled for end-of-life vehicles & electrical and electronic equipment. A specific industrial pilot unit will be used for Pur4Up, where they will amplify the different techniques of separation, purification and monitoring of plastics to reach the standards.

Eloy Water will develop a new value chain in Wallonia in which individual water treatment plant tanks and their components will be produced and marketed by integrating recycled plastics from the Comet Traitements process. This is an exemplary demonstration of the R&D and innovation strategies to be adopted to implement an « upcycling » strategy.

Certech’s mission is to optimise the formulation and characterisation of materials (physical, mechanical and thermal properties). Certech will participate in the development of technical data sheets, which are essential to address the sectors supplying industries and compounders.

Financing & job creation

Pur4Up has received €6.4 million in funding, of which €3.7 million was invested by Wallonia and €2.7 million by the private sector.
More than 57 jobs will be created in Wallonia by the two industrial partners.