Polyethylene plastics — in particular, the ubiquitous plastic bag that blights the landscape — are notoriously hard to recycle. They’re sturdy and difficult to break down, and if they’re recycled at all, they’re melted into a polymer stew useful mostly for decking and other low-value products.
But a new process developed at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) could change all that. The process uses catalysts to break the long polyethylene (PE) polymers into uniform chunks — the three-carbon molecule propylene — that are the feedstocks for making other types of high-value plastic, such as polypropylene.
The process, admittedly in the early stages of development, would turn a waste product — not only plastic bags and packaging, but all types of PE plastic bottles — into a major product in high demand. Previous methods to break the chains of polyethylene required high temperatures and gave mixtures of components in much lower demand. The new process could not only lower the need for fossil fuel production of propylene, often called propene, but also help fill a currently unmet need by the plastics industry for more propylene.
“To the extent they get recycled, a lot of polyethylene plastics get turned into low-grade materials. You can’t take a plastic bag and then make another plastic bag with the same properties out of it,” said John Hartwig, UC Berkeley’s Henry Rapoport Chair in Organic Chemistry. “But if you can take that polymer bag back to its monomers, break it down into small pieces and repolymerize it, then instead of pulling more carbon out of the ground, you use that as your carbon source to make other things — for example, polypropylene. We would use less shale gas for that purpose, or for the other uses of propene, and to fill the so-called propylene gap.”
Polyethylene plastics make up about one-third of the entire plastics market worldwide, with more than 100 million tons produced yearly from fossil fuels, including natural gas obtained by hydraulic fracturing, often called shale gas.
Despite recycling programs — recyclable PE products are designated with plastic numbers 2 and 4 — only about 14 percent of all polyethylene plastic products are recycled. Because of their stability, polyethylene polymers are difficult to break down into their component parts, or depolymerize, so most of the recycling involves melting it and molding it into other products, like yard furniture, or burning it as fuel.
In response to growing industry and regulatory demand for recyclable plastics, Domino Printing Sciences (Domino) is pleased to announce the new U510 laser coder. The U510 is a state-of-the-art UV-based laser coder for high-speed, high-precision coding on recyclable, mono-material, coloured plastics, including flexible food packaging films in horizontal and vertical form-fill-seal (HFFS and VFFS) applications.
Food and beverage manufacturers around the world are under increasing pressure to make their packaging more sustainable – in the EU, this includes a requirement that all packaging be made 100% recyclable or reusable by 2030. Under these new regulations mixed materials, including PET and aluminium foil laminates typically used in food applications, will no longer be permitted.
“Laser coders are a very popular solution for many food and beverage manufacturers looking to add reliably crisp, machine-scannable QR codes, batch and product information, and logos at very high speeds,” says Felix Rief, Head of Laser and Extraction, Domino. “However, certain new sustainable food packaging materials, including mono-material recyclable plastics, can prove challenging to code using traditional fibre or CO2 laser coders. We developed the U510 UV laser to offer manufacturers a reliable laser coding solution for these new sustainable packaging solutions.”
The U510 codes directly onto white and coloured mono-material plastics and films without the need for additional additives or laser-activated fields on the substrate. Codes result from a photochemical reaction on the very top of the plastic, creating a smooth, indelible mark without the risk of compromising the product packaging. Like all Domino lasers, the U510 is optimised to deliver high-contrast text, graphics, and 2D codes, at very high speeds to satisfy the demands of the I fast-paced food production lines. The all-in-one laser head and controller unit is completely protected against dust and water (IP55 rating) to meet the challenging demands of dusty, moist, or even sticky food and beverage production lines.
“The upcoming European legislation is causing many food manufacturers to revaluate their product packaging, often necessitating a change in coding solution. We were approached by one of the world’s leading food manufacturers for an extended 24/7 trial to replace competitor CO2 laser coders at one of the company’s main manufacturing sites,” says Dennis Gesellgen, Global Sector Manager, Domino.
“The trial was a huge success – with its compact design the U510 could replace the competitor laser very easily, and the customer was delighted with the laser performance and, in particular, with the high IP rating for dust and water protection, which is a differentiator for Domino lasers. The customer commented that the U510 had outperformed competitor lasers in all trials, with significantly improved code quality and zero laser-related downtime over the entire duration of the trial.”
The U510 was designed for ease of integration, with an all-in-one printhead and controller unit that integrates seamlessly into existing production lines and an adjustable laser head that can be mounted horizontally or vertically for extra flexibility. In addition, U510 lasers come with Domino’s extended service and support plan and Domino Cloud connectivity for remote diagnostics and monitoring to optimise performance and uptime.
“We know that new and upcoming regulations necessitating the use of recyclable plastics will be of significant concern to our customers now and in the future. So we are very pleased to be able to offer a reliable, UV laser coding solution for these new packaging materials,” says Dr Stefan Stadler, Team Lead, Domino Laser Academy.
“Developments in new sustainable packaging solutions will continue for many years to come, and Domino wants to remain at the forefront of these developments so that we can continue to meet the needs of manufacturers in all industries,” continues Stadler.
Le Monde: “The race for the metal considered the ‘oil of the 21st century’ is now as close as it is global.” It exists in abundance especially in China, Australia and South America. Competition for control of future mining sites for this mineral critical, essential for the production of electric batteries, is becoming a burning geopolitical issue – as shown by the case of the war in Ukraine – the USA, Europe and “metal diplomacy”
It is no longer a subject for commodity specialists – we read in Le Monde – but it is already a burning geopolitical question, which interests states as much as it worries them: lithium is now at the top of the list of “critical minerals”. This metal, used for the production of electric batteries, has seen its price rise to be described as “white gold”. In the lingo of mining groups, it has also earned the nickname “oil of the 21st century”, indicating its leading role in shaping the global balance of power, a role previously occupied by hydrocarbons.
It is enough to replace lithium with gas to understand the nature of the questions about the future of this resource. This is demonstrated by the case of the war in Ukraine, when Russia substantially turned off the taps on Europe, proceeding with a “weaponization” of this natural resource. This is an example of what could happen tomorrow with so-called critical minerals, especially lithium.
This metal is fundamental for the production of (lithium-ion) batteries for electric vehicles, replacing combustion engines (which Europe has predicted to disappear by 2035), but also more generally in the entire economy. of the energy transition, among other critical minerals. “The world will go from carbon-intensive kilowatt hours, which consume fossil fuels, to very” metallized “kilowatt hours. In addition, all advanced technologies and high value-added steels use an increasing amount of rare metals. This is especially true for the aeronautical and defense industry “, analyzes Vincent Donnen, in a note from the French Institute for International Relations on Critical Metals.
Lithium is used – in an apparently modest way – in the manufacture of cathodes, the negative pole of electric batteries. But whoever controls the ability to produce cathodes actually controls the production of batteries. In short, it makes no sense to build mega-factories, such as those of Telsa, to supply the exponential consumption of electric vehicles, if a dominant cathode operator can stop supplying a crucial component overnight. This actor could be China, where a part of the world’s lithium is processed and refined. But counteroffensives are underway.
Comparison in a low voice
Lithium is not scarce. It exists in abundance in different parts of the world, but especially in China, Australia and South America, three areas from which about 90% of the mineral is mined. A concentration that not even oil has achieved with so few players. Now the race for the control of future extraction sites begins.
Lagging behind China, the United States and the European Union? Overwhelmed by the question of the war in Ukraine, on Thursday 22 September in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, a meeting was held that was barely noticed. It was a mistake, because its theme formed the basis of a confrontation that is taking place, silently, on a global scale. At the initiative of the United States, the goal was to build a Mutual Security Partnership (MSP) in this sector, with allies such as Australia, Canada, Japan and France, among others, as well as countries with reservations, from Argentina. to Mongolia, passing through the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, summed up the situation: “We all recognize that supply chains of critical minerals are simply vital to our common future.”
The competition is now as tough as it is global. It involves gigantic investments. India, frightened by Chinese control over supplies, has just launched a grand plan worth $ 2.5 billion. In Argentina, which is part of the “lithium triangle” between Chile and Bolivia, more than fifty mining projects are being studied. A European operator in the sector, who hoped to win a contract on the spot, said he was surprised to see Chinese groups winning tenders “tripling the sums offered by their competitors”.
According to the same source, Washington’s underhanded political pressure allowed a group of American companies to win the Kachi project in Argentina, in association with Ford. In this way, the automaker is sure to guarantee its future deliveries. “This is one of the deals we are working on to help Ford secure the raw materials needed for our aggressive acceleration plan for electric vehicle development,” said Jennifer Flake, Ford spokesperson.
Europe, which for a long time was confined to the role of a passive and confident customer in the logistics circuits of globalization, has also started a transformation. In January, Philippe Varin, former president of France Industrie, presented a “Report on the security of supply of mineral raw materials to the industry for the ecological transition”. Commissioned by the French government, the text warned of France’s state of dependence on these crucial resources and identified urgent avenues for the future, such as the creation of a strategic stock of rare metals in Le Havre or the creation of an investment fund. It is necessary “to develop a real metal diplomacy”, warns Philippe Varin.
Australia is a supplier of important minerals used for electric vehicle batteries and other products in South Korea, but a non-profit trade organization in Seoul suggests that companies should step up efforts to diversify supply lines and avoid risks from their reliance on China.
The Korea International Trade Association (KITA) said in a report that the proportion of lithium imports from China rose to 59 percent in 2021 from 47 percent a year ago. South Korea’s reliance on Chinese lithium deepened in 2022, with lithium imports from China standing at $1.61 billion in the first seven months of 2022, up 471 percent from the same period last year.
China accounted for 64 percent of South Korea’s total lithium imports from January to July this year, followed by Chile with 31 percent, KITA said, citing Australia and Argentina as promising alternative suppliers. Australia is a major producer of lithium and other core minerals such as nickel and cobalt.
Well before the implementation of an inflation reduction act (IRA) that only subsidizes electric vehicles using more than a certain percentage of core minerals produced by the U.S. or countries that have signed free trade agreements with Washington, South Korean companies have tried to diversify their supply lines to reduce their dependence on China for key raw materials.
In December 2021, South Korea’s steel group POSCO disclosed a scheme to invest some $830 million in producing lithium hydroxide, an inorganic compound used for electric vehicle batteries, from a salt lake in Argentina. A production plant with an annual capacity of 25,000 tons will be completed in the first half of 2024.
POSCO has purchased lithium mining rights in the lake from Australian lithium miner Galaxy Resources for $280 million. A dedicated POSCO factory will be built in the southern industrial port city of Gwangyang by 2023 to manufacture 43,000 tons of lithium hydroxide annually.
In May 2021, POSCO acquired a 30 percent stake in a nickel mining and smelting company in Australia for $240 million. Under a deal with Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, the steel group would receive 7,500 tons of nickel in mixed hydroxide precipitate (MHP) per year, beginning in 2024. MHP consists of mostly nickel hydroxide but also contains valuable cobalt hydroxides and various other impurities.
Sorting studies show ability to separate transparent, dark packaging items and direct them to the correct streams.
Tarrytown, New York-based Ampacet Corp. and Pellenc ST, Pertuis, France, are partnering to develop methods to assess the detectability of dark polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging in optical sorting.
Plastics separated into mono-material streams at material recovery facilities (MRFs) are scanned by near-infrared technology (NIR) to recognize the resin type used in plastic articles but are limited by NIR’s inability to separate plastics that contain carbon black, the most commonly used black pigment. Carbon black absorbs the most part of the infrared spectrum, preventing the backscattering of infrared light to the NIR spectrometer and consequently blocking the recognition of the resin’s fingerprint.
Such mixed plastic packaging ends in a residual fraction, which is disposed of mainly through incineration rather than recycled. Ampacet says it has developed alternative black masterbatch coloring under its Rec-NIR-Black brand that can be sorted using conventional NIR technologies and be effectively recycled.
PET recyclers are equipped with visible optical sensors that sort PET streams by colors, but identifying transparent and dark plastic can be troublesome. Due to the use of black conveyor belts, the visible domain spectrometers positioned above can struggle to distinguish dark containers from transparent ones, directing the dark packaging to the transparent stream.
PellencST says sorting tests conducted on PET containers colored with Ampacet’s REC-NIR-BLACK allowed it to establish the optimal conditions and adjust the computer algorithm to differentiate transparent packaging from dark and send them to the correct streams.
-What Are The Many Uses of Jute Fibers?
Jute, a natural fiber, is important in developing composite materials that have shown promise in domestic, automotive, and medical industries among others.
Jute plants thrive best in grassy soil with 125-150 mm of rainfall each month, mild to moderate temperatures (20-40°C), and high relative humidity (70-80%). Jute is a bast fiber that is grown in plantations and harvested as the plant develops. The plants are then frequently retted in slow running water to allow the fibers to be removed easily.
Why is the Treatment of Jute Fibers Necessary?
As per the latest research published in the journal Polymers, Jute, as a natural fiber, has various flaws including being readily decayed, combustible, thermally degradable, and having a high susceptibility to moisture, making it impractical for use in goods in its raw state. As a result, it requires further alteration for use in the manufacturing of sustainable products.
Use of Jute as a Construction Material
The application of jute fiber as the reinforcement material in polymeric matrix composites has led to a whole new world of possibilities for construction material applications.
Jute composite materials can be an exceptionally cost-effective resource for the construction industry, specifically for the manufacturing of compartment and unfounded ceiling panels, window and door frames, mobile or pre-fabricated buildings that can be used during natural disasters such as hurricanes, seismic activity, floods, and so on.
Household Applications of Jute Fibers
Jute is also utilized in home furnishings such as armchairs, decorative items, roofing, bags, tables, and bath units. Jute may be used as a wood replacement on the inside of a structure. Jute-FRP (fiber reinforced polymer) skin doors have the potential to be used in individual homes, workplaces, educational institutions, healthcare facilities, and research labs, among other places.
Water resistance, flame retardancy, chemical resistance, versatility, and other unique properties distinguish FRP-PUF sandwich composite gates from those built from typical monolithic materials. An expense and weight comparison of FRP gates to traditional wooden doors found that substituting typical wooden doors with FRP doors might yield cost and weight reductions of 40% and 60%, respectively, as per the research published in the journal GSC Advanced Research and Reviews.
Uses in the Automotive Industry
Natural fiber (jute) composites are extensively employed in a variety of automotive applications such as molded door panels, insulating layers, headliners, carpeting, door pads, and so on. Because of its diverse qualities such as lighter weight, strength-to-weight ratio, cheap cost, the convenience of structural construction, and high strength, form, weight, rigidity, resilience, and elasticity, hybrid jute composite materials are employed in a wide range of automotive applications.
Companies may want to use a jute fiber composite mat for items that need the qualities of wood but have a form that cannot be manufactured with regular wood material. These organic fiber composite applications are growing in favor of a more sustainable alternative to pricey synthetic fibers.
To meet market expectations regarding flexible packaging, OQ has developed a portfolio of film packaging solutions designed for a wide range of film extrusion applications, including PP, LLDPE and HDPE grades, that are able to meet these essential requirements, providing consistent quality, performance with competitive costs. This portfolio includes several innovative and reliable multilayer food packaging solutions.
HP4102M, for example, is a homopolymer polypropylene designed for CPP and is suitable to produce metallizable and lamination films. It is commonly used for confectionery packaging and food products requiring an aroma barrier and is popular with packaging manufacturers due to its good processability, high gloss and clarity, and mechanical properties.
OQ has also developed a robust range of HDPE and LLDPE film grades to support mono and multilayer film structures providing solutions for a wide range of applications. For instance, the DFDA-7042/7047 and DFDC 7080/7050 grades – boasting high gloss and excellent draw down qualities, as well as good tensile strength and toughness.
Meanwhile, key features of DGDZ-6095 and DGDZ-6097 HDPE grades include high film strength and tensile properties give the ability to provide additional stiffness to multilayer structures. Furthermore, OQ’s HPR1018HA metallocene mLLDPE grade features excellent toughness and sealing properties an ideal partner in formulating solutions for multi-layer performance film structures.
OQ currently produces 19 flexible packaging grades, 11 of which serve the key food packaging market segment. All of which are suitable for blend or majority components in both mono layer and multi-layer film solutions. Trevor Robinson, Global Head of Marketing at OQ, commented: “Our innovative and high-performance products and services, often lead our customers to more cost-effective solutions outperforming the original. And with a network of regional offices and technical service teams located in key markets such as the Middle East, China, Singapore and Turkey, we can provide customers with timely advice, troubleshooting and answers to questions.”
OQ is continuously striving to innovate and stay ahead of trends. Its product development lab represents the beating heart of this culture – here, various product development activities including properties and raw material selection are evaluated to optimise the productperformance.
Turning plastic waste into useful products through chemical recycling is one strategy for addressing Earth’s growing plastic pollution problem. A new study may improve the ability of one method, called pyrolysis, to process hard-to-recycle mixed plastics — like multilayer food packaging — and generate fuel as a byproduct, the scientists said.
Pyrolysis involves heating plastic in an oxygen-free environment, causing the materials to break down and creating new liquid or gas fuels in the process. Current commercial applications, however, either operate below the necessary scale or can only handle certain type of plastics, the scientists said.
“We have a very limited understanding of mixed-plastic pyrolysis,” said Hilal Ezgi Toraman, assistant professor of energy engineering and chemical engineering at Penn State. “Understanding the interaction effects between different polymers during advanced recycling is very important while we are trying to develop technologies that can recycle real waste plastics.”
The scientists conducted co-pyrolysis of two of the most common types of plastic, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET), along with different catalysts to study the interaction effects between the plastics. They found one catalyst may be a good candidate for converting mixed LDPE and PET waste into valuable liquid fuels. Catalysts are materials added to pyrolysis that can aid the process, like inducing the plastic to break down selectively and at lower temperatures.
“This type of work can allow us to provide guidelines or suggestions to industry,” said Toraman, who is the Virginia S. and Philip L. Walker Jr. Faculty Fellow in the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering at Penn State. “It’s important to discover what kind of synergies exist between these materials during advanced recycling and what types of applications they may be right for before scaling up.”
The plastics, LDPE and PET, are commonly found in food packaging, which often consists of layers of different plastic material that are engineered to keep products fresh and safe, but are also difficult to recycle with traditional processes because the layers have to be separated, which is an expensive process.
“If you want to recycle them, you need to basically separate those layers and maybe do something with the single streams,” Toraman said. “But pyrolysis can handle it, so it’s a very important option. It’s not easy to find such a technique that can accept that messy complexity of the these different plastic materials.”
The first step to developing new commercial pyrolysis processes hinges on having a better mechanistic understanding of how dynamic plastic waste mixtures decompose and interact, the scientists said.
The scientists conducted pyrolysis on LDPE and PET separately and together and observed interaction effects between the two polymers during tests with each of three catalysts they used. The scientists reported the findings in the journal Reaction Chemistry & Engineering.
“We saw products that can be very good candidates for gasoline application,” Toraman said.
The team also developed a kinetic model that was able to accurately model the interaction effects observed during co-pyrolysis of LDPE and PET with each of the catalysts. Kinetic models attempt to predict the behavior of a system and are important for better understanding why reactions are occurring.
Toraman’s research group focuses on doing experiments under well-defined and well-controlled conditions to understand interaction effects during advanced recycling of mixed plastics and the corresponding reaction mechanisms.
“Systematic and fundamental studies on understanding reaction pathways and developing kinetic models are the first steps toward process optimization,” Toraman said. “If we don’t have our kinetic models right, our reaction mechanisms accurately, then if we scale up for pilot plants or large-scale operations, the results won’t be accurate.”
Toraman said she hopes the research leads to better environmental responsibility in the recovery, processing and utilization of Earth resources.
A global analysis of all mass-produced plastics found that a total of 8.3 billion metric tons of new plastics is estimated to be generated worldwide to date. As of 2015, 79% of plastic waste, which contains numerous hazardous chemicals, has been left to accumulate in landfills or natural environments with approximately 12% incinerated and only 9% recycled.
“Whatever we do is better than doing nothing,” Toraman said. “We need to include those plastics into the economy again, to have a circular economy, otherwise they will just end up in landfills, leaching potentially toxic substances into the soil and water or contaminate oceans. So doing something, finding a value, is better than nothing. Plastics are currently considered as waste because we treat these valuable resources as waste.”
Other Penn State researchers on this project were Sean Timothy Okonsky, doctoral student in the Department of Chemical Engineering, and J.V. Jayarama Krishna, postdoctoral researcher in the John and Willie Leone Family Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering.