Representatives from the ISOPREP project consortium, including the project monitoring officer and project reviewer, met online on Thursday 30 April 2020 to discuss the progress of the project to date. The project has reached the midway point and it was concluded that the team has done a great job and met the project objectives so far.
Among many different polymers polypropylene (PP) is the second most widely used commodity polymer and is found in a wide variety of products, ranging from materials for the automotive industry to packaging materials and textile products like carpets. Globally, the carpet market is forecast to grow by 12% between 2019 and 2024, but the industry performs poorly on recycling its products. PP is one of the main contributors to plastics-based pollution of the environment, with only 1% of these PP-based products currently being recycled. Even where mechanical recycling and/or thermal recovery methods are employed, they generally result in low quality products, while the rest ends up mainly in landfills.
ISOPREP focuses on an innovative, alternative approach for the recycling of PP from waste carpet. This is to be achieved by exploiting a novel patented ionic solvent to selectively solubilise the polypropylene so that it can be reused elsewhere. The technology consists of pre-processes to increase the PP content in the waste carpet feedstock materials. The dissolution, dye removal and precipitation processes were developed and optimised in order to obtain virgin-like recycled PP while solvent recovery processes were also created.
The ISOPREP technology potentially offers a number of key advantages, both from an economic and an environmental point of view. The method, which aims at cost-effectiveness in comparison to fresh manufacture, will reduce the reliance of polypropylene production on fossil sources, thereby reducing emissions and energy use.
The process of recycling waste carpet back into PP with an identical performance to freshly manufactured resin is non-polluting due to the negligible loss of solvent per cycle. The solvent is non-toxic and non-flammable at the process temperature range, and able to remove impurities such as dyes and colours.
The first period of the project is now complete, following 18 months of progress, and the ISOPREP project has now moved into a new stage of work. Extensive laboratory-scale studies have been successfully completed and results that show viability of the process have been obtained and an initial LCA has shown the potential environmental benefits of the process. The consortium is ready to begin sub-pilot scale tests, as soon as the specially designed pilot plant will be built.
In addition to the technical work, the project has already been promoted in its early stages at a variety of conferences, workshops and trade fairs.
The next stage of the project will be to conduct the pilot scale testing in order to build up to an engineering package and process design for a scaled up operational facility using the ISOPREP technology.