Two research teams are working side by side at SINTEF on totally different solutions about what we should do with our plastic waste. While one team is trying to come up with the best possible recycling processes for the used plastic, the other is working to make the plastic disappear without any form of recycling.
Long life – short process
”If handled correctly, polymers can have a long life,” says senior adviser Line Telje Høydal, who represents one of the research teams. She is working with material recycling and believes this is a socially correct way to take care of the materials. “The materials are slightly reduced each time round, but recycling each item five or six times is possible,” she says, adding: “The greater the amount of material recycling, the better the accounts will be.”
Senior research scientist Fredrik Männle represents the other team. He came in contact with a company in Sunnmøre a few years ago while working on general additives. They have collaborated on the development of a method degrading plastics, which is sold and marketed by the firm Nor-X Industry AS. By adding the substance Nor-X degradable in the plastic materials during production, the materials will then decompose in a short time when exposed to sun, air and humidity. As an additive in a plastic carrier bag, it will break down quicker than a fallen apple. After two weeks in the sunlight, the bags will still have 90 percent of their strength, but after five weeks only traces will remain.
Line Telje Høydal says that Norwegian industry quickly realised that recycling industrial plastic waste was of economical benefit, but the plastic fraction of municipal solid waste has so far not been marketable.
“It has, therefore, been an important task for SINTEF to improve the recycling process to achieve a better quality and find the optimal use for the plastic materials that are collected,” she says.
“We now have many studies and data on recycling. Unless you use a lot of energy on the recycling process, it will almost always be environmentally better to recycle than utilise another form of processing the waste.”
The researchers have assisted companies with sorting and identifying different types of plastic. They have also carried out quality controls, mechanical testing and aging tests. One of the companies SINTEF has assisted is Folldal Produksjon, which incorporates recycled plastic in the manufacture of its hawser. These hawsers are used in the North Sea and so we can say that the process has gone full circle.
But what about all the plastics littering the countryside? Wouldn’t it be great if this could just disappear? Can inbuilt decomposition simply be the answer to the world’s significant littering problem?
Germans, French and, in particular, Hungarians are interested in the Norwegian additive product. Hungarian authorities have endorsed the additive in some plastic products to control the country’s plastic problem. German farmers are testing out degradable agricultural films in vegetable production. Mulch films are difficult to collect and recycle once used. A much simpler solution is that the plastics decompose after four to eight weeks.
Nor-X would also like the additive to be used in the packaging of fast foods and other consumer items. Everyone knows how ugly it is when the snow disappears in spring and large quantities of sodden rubbish are visible.
A soft option?
The conflict between the two solutions is if the additive is used in ordinary plastic carrier bags and these are later recycled, then products made from these recycled plastics can degrade after a given time.
”I believe the degradation solution is the wrong way to solve the littering problem,” says Høydal. ”After all, we have a political resolution in Norway to recycle plastic. Introducing additives will damage the established recycling process.”
However, Nor-X is trying to produce evidence to show that the additive won’t damage the recycling of plastic products. ”Trials show that this type of plastic can probably also be recycled. The answer is to add a substance that neutralises and stops the degradation,” says Männle.
Nor-X’s aim now is to provide evidence that the two solutions (recycling and degradation) complement each other and collectively provide the best solution for protecting the environment.
In order to be able to utilise the plastic, it is necessary to have a saleable product. For many years industry has been recycling plastic – basically because it is economically profitable. Nor-X also believes its product will be profitable in the future.
What will be socially profitable?
“There are many types of accounts,” says researcher Hanne Lerche Raadal from the Stiftelsen Østfoldforskning. “We basically do environmental calculations on different recycling and treatment systems. We look, for example, at CO2 emissions and the pollution of water and NOx by waste disposal plants. Such accounting processes clearly show that it is environmentally profitable to recycle.”
For its part, Nor-X has had meetings with the State-run recycling company, Emballasjeretur, to start a joint project to determine what happens when plastic containing the additive is recycled. The company believes that there will be sufficient plastic in the world to accommodate both recycling and decomposition.
In the end, it is the ultimate solution for the environment that must count.
Aase Dragland | alfa
Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main
Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy