Society must increasingly face greater and more complex challenges. The COVID-19 health crisis demonstrated the importance of research, as well as the need for green, eco-friendly recovery. The current production scenario once again highlights the fact that natural resources are limited and that the linear production model is economically and environmentally unsustainable. For AIMPLAS, the Plastics Technology Centre, the circular economy is one of the keys for responding to these challenges and therefore accounts for a considerable share of the centre’s activity.
The technology centre’s R&D areas include ecodesign; the use of bio-based, recycled, recyclable, biodegradable and compostable materials; the development of new business models based on repair and reuse; and the improvement of waste collection, management and separation systems, as well as mechanical and chemical recycling processes to obtain quality materials for use in high value-added applications.
A total of 178 circular economy R&D projects were presented in 2021, one of which was GO-OLIVA. It was carried out with Olivarera de Los Pedroches and involved developing a new biodegradable and compostable plastic material from olive stones to manufacture olive oil products that can be processed in a composting plant or added to compost of olive tree debris. Another project presented in 2021 was MICROPLAST, which aims to remove microplastics from municipal and industrial wastewater with the participation of Aguas de Valencia and the Universitat de València. As a result of this project, a standardized methodology was developed to obtain homogeneous data on the presence of these particles in different wastewater sources.
The PUCO2 Project, developed with AIDIMME and INESCOP, involves doing research on how to turn industrial CO2 emissions into high value-added chemical products. Systems for converting CO2 into polyurethane have been developed for its use in paints, varnishes and adhesives in the footwear and furniture sectors. The ECOGLUE II Project, in collaboration with INESCOP, has developed a new generation of environmentally friendly bioadhesives with applications in the footwear, transport and construction sectors. These bioadhesives possess the same properties and functionality as conventional adhesives, but have additional advantages: they come from renewable sources and can be dismantled, which makes recycling easier.
AIMPLAS also coordinated the European LIFE ECOMETHYLAL Project, which ended with the construction of a plant capable of extracting up to half a kilogram of methylal (a substance that can be used as a solvent or raw material to produce new plastics) from each kilogram of non-recyclable waste from the automotive, electrical-electronic and packaging industries. AIMPLAS also led the European RECOTRANS Project to manufacture lighter vehicles without increasing costs. New thermoplastic composites were developed using microwaves and laser welding, resulting in a reduction in costs and energy consumption, as well as confirmation of the feasibility of recycling and processing the resulting material.
The OCEANETS Project, yet another project in which AIMPLAS takes part, has developed chemical and mechanical recycling processes to use end-of-life fishing nets to produce sportswear with trackers to verify their source. When exposed to infrared rays, these trackers reveal their presence in the fabric through the use of an additive.