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Recycling of Polyurethane

Project RePURpose Develops New Method

The versatile material polyurethane (PU) is a component of many everyday objects and plays an important role in saving energy and generating electrical energy from renewable energy sources. However, most PUR components are currently disposed of in landfills or incineration plants at the end of their service life. A practicable way of recovering the basic elements of the plastic and making them usable for new production has not yet been found.

The PU manufacturer Tinby A/S, Søndersø/Denmark, wants to change this with its partners. Together with scientists and other leading companies in the PUR industry, Tinby has launched a project that aims to create a completely new recycling economy for the useful plastics. With RePURpose, the manufacturers want to ensure that today's high-tech material does not become tomorrow's plastic waste.

© Tinby/N.Buscher

© Tinby/N.Buscher

Difficult to recycle

PU has become an indispensable part of our modern everyday life. The flexible material has many advantages: It is extremely light yet very hard-wearing, can be processed extremely well and has considerable insulating properties. For example, PU can be used to insulate houses better, build lighter vehicles or more powerful wind turbines.

However, the material is difficult to recycle. Most PU waste and offcuts from product manufacture end up in landfills and incinerators. This is a problem not only in view of the growing mountains of plastic waste and advancing global warming. Valuable substances are also lost as a result, because PU is partly made up of non-renewable raw materials, including crude oil. Currently known procedures for recovering the raw materials are very costly and therefore inefficient.

Project RePURpose

The RePURpose project is now intended to remedy this. Tinby has teamed up with five other Danish companies and experts from science and research to develop a process for recycling PU waste and returning it to the production cycle.

The project is being developed by researchers involved in two different technologies: The first focuses on material losses during production. The second process is intended to provide an efficient way of breaking down PUR waste generated by industry and end users into its basic building blocks, known as monomers. This would ensure the greatest possible flexibility in reuse. A total budget of EUR 2.5 million was provided for the project by "Innovation Fund Denmark".

Saving resources

The project has both economically and ecologically worthwhile objectives. If more products are made from recycled PU in the future, less PU will flow into waste incineration for energy recovery and less CO2 emissions will be produced. In addition, less plastic waste would end up in landfills worldwide.

With the methods developed, Tinby, together with its competitors, aims to become the world leader in PU recycling.

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