Making plastics more valuable: a second customized life thanks to material recycling.

System services for a circular plastics economy.

With proper ingredients, plastics can be durable or easily recyclable. Scientists at Fraunhofer LBF apply their expertise to support the new Fraunhofer excellence cluster ”Circular Plastics Economy”. They have developed new stabilizers and aim to design polymers from renewable raw materials (”biopolymers”) so that they can be produced without using fossil materials.

The plastic industry must become circular

The basic idea behind the transformation from a linear to a circular economy is simple: Reduce extraction of fossil resources, avoid end-of-life losses and simultaneously facilitate real closed-loop recycling of plastics. The implementation is complex: Circular economy is more than just increasing efficiency and recycling; it does not only address closed-loop recirculation, but also circular product systems involving the entire life cycle. To date, there are no suitable ways spanning across value creation stages and lifecycle phases.

The Fraunhofer Society has started a new excellence cluster entitled ”Circular Plastics Economy” (CPE). Under the leadership of Fraunhofer UMSICHT, five Fraunhofer institutes, including LBF, want to use plastic as an example to show how energy and material flows of a recyclable material chain can be transformed into a circular economy. To this end, special system services are being developed with and for the plastics industry, including the corresponding consumer goods and retail companies and the closed-loop economy.

Fraunhofer LBF develops new stabilizers

Scientists from the plastics division at Fraunhofer LBF are applying their expertise to contribute to the implementation of the goals of the CPE cluster. Recycling of materials and raw materials as well as biotransformation (i.e. materials from renewable raw materials) are crucial elements for a closed-loop economy. Plastic additives, which are already guaranteeing the processing and long-term properties of new plastics, can also be used to customize recycled plastics for a second lifecycle. To accomplish this task, the Darmstadt scientists have developed a new generation of stabilizers (patent-pending) that interact specifically with the damage precursors to old plastics and neutralize them. Plastic recyclates display comparable properties to new products and can replace them. Valuable raw materials and energy requirements for the production of new plastics can be saved and carbon dioxide emissions reduced. Here you can read more about this article. Further information

Biopolymers replace fossil substances

Another goal of Fraunhofer LBF in the CPE cluster is to equip polymers made from renewable raw materials (”biopolymers”) so that they can replace plastics from fossil materials such as crude oil without compromising efficiency. This applies to applications such as packaging or agricultural films as well as applications in the transport sector. Here again, customized additive systems that are also based on renewable resources can control the lifetime of bioplastics and, depending on the application or customer request, either induce accelerated degradation of the polymers in the environment or ensure long-term durability.

Social benefits

A key objective of the cluster is to develop comprehensive, overarching research and development platforms and to transform the entire plastic value chain from the previously linear to a circular economy.

Part of the research will be dedicated to producing prototypes for new plastics, additives and compounds. Reusable packaging for online retailers and car seats will be used as examples to demonstrate what products with circular properties look like. Material and raw material recycling will be reinforced through advanced technologies and digital systems. This includes digitally tracking materials and products throughout their lifecycles so that manufacturers and recyclers can make faster and better decisions about effective closed-loop options – in line with the principles of the circular economy.

Sponsors and partners

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Forschung e.V.
(Fraunhofer Society for the advancement of applied research)
Fraunhofer-Institute UMSICHT (Cluster Administration), IAP, ICT, IML and LBF