WHITECYCLE’S FIRST RESULTS – June 2024
News
June 25, 2024

WHITECYCLE’S FIRST RESULTS – June 2024

We aim to contribute and create at our scale a prosperous, sustainable, and vibrant EU circular economy paving the way to meet 2025 and2030 EU targets and to set more stringent targets leading up to 2050 for the full circularity of plastics and climate neutrality.

The WhiteCycle project is an ambitious endeavor, and to achieve its objectives, key steps were actively undertaken during the first 18 months of the project: Macro-sorting identification and fiber/matrix separation in WP1,Amorphization in WP2, Enzymatic depolymerization and purification in WP3, and polymerization in WP4.

During these 18 months, our project has made significant strides in several key areas. Firstly, our focus was on macro-sorting identification, aimed at discerning the presence of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) with instreams of clothing (WP1). Through comprehensive research, we explored various technologies for PET detection, ultimately selecting a highly promising solution. The development of a real-time monitoring system marked a major achievement, enabling us to pinpoint garments containing PET successfully, even in multilayers ones.

 

Initial trials yielded encouraging results, setting the stage for further advancement in the next phase of the project as we aim to scale up this technology from TRL 5 to TRL 6-8. Additionally, we achieved TRL 5 for the shaping process, a crucial step in removing hard points such as metallic pieces.

Concurrently, while directing our efforts towards the separation of fibers and matrices in tires and hoses, we pursued the upscaling of the electrostatic process (WP1). This process is essential for sorting fibers from rubber components, a pivotal step that allows us to tailor subsequent processes to the unique characteristics and properties of different materials. Initially operating in batch mode at a laboratory scale, we successfully transitioned to continuous mode, culminating in the establishment of a real pilot step. While significant progress has been made, further testing and refinement are still underway to optimize performance.

After completing these steps, which are aimed at separating the different materials from your raw waste and concentrating PET, the next crucial pre-treatment is Amorphization (WP2). This process is necessary for enzymatic depolymerization and restoration.

To achieve it, we conducted numerous experiments to determine the most suitable thermal treatment technique, comparing plasma and thermal extrusion. Our findings overwhelmingly favored extrusion, as it proved more versatile and adaptable to different PET sources, particularly clothing and hoses and tires. This strategic choice enabled us to process a significant volume of material, overcoming potential challenges associated with PET from tires.

Furthermore, this decision not only enhanced our operational capacity but also significantly advanced our expertise and understanding of the impacts of contaminants, such as rubber, on the pre-treatment process. Specifically, our focus on the thermal process elucidated PET behavior, aiding in decreasing crystallinity and facilitating subsequent steps. This holistic approach not only ensures effective preparation of feedstocks but also contributes to the refinement of our knowledge base, enabling us to over come technical challenges.

The next phase in the PET recycling journey is enzymatic depolymerization (WP3). In essence, we deconstruct the material allowing to separate pollutants from the pure product. This pivotal step involves a second purification stage aimed at eliminating any remaining pollutants. Here, we employ a specialized technique designed to address pollutants at a micro-scale with precision. First results obtained with PET from different complex feed stocks are very promising.

In pursuit of this objective, we conducted a series of experiments, yielding valuable insights. While our endeavors were met with excitement, we encountered challenges in scaling up certain techniques, leading to their exclusion from consideration. Consequently, further investigations are imperative to guarantee the success of this crucial phase. These ongoing efforts are essential for refining our approach and ensuring the effectiveness of the purification process, ultimately guaranteeing efficient enzymaticde polymerization.

After completing the preceding step and obtaining nearly purified small pellets, we embark on the final purification process, which involves recomposing the material through a repolymerization process (WP4). Essentially, we reintegrate selected molecules to form the recycled PET.

As we endeavor to develop innovative solutions for sustainable waste management, understanding the holistic environmental and societal impacts is paramount. In this pursuit, conducting a comprehensive Life Cycle Analysis(LCA) is essential (WP6). The LCA provides us with invaluable insights into the environmental footprint of our process, guiding us towards more informed decision-making.

Moreover, we will also conduct a Life Cycle Costing (LCC) and SocialLife Cycle Assessment (SLCA). These assessments provide a comprehensiveperspective on both the costs and social implications associated with theprocess throughout its entire life cycle. Importantly, we conduct theseanalyses in parallel with the development of our project, ensuring thatsustainability and societal considerations are integrated from the outset andinforming our ongoing efforts to refine and optimize our processes.

The initial phase of this undertaking involves gathering data across the entire value chain, necessitating collaboration with stakeholders to standardize data collection methods. Over the past 18 months, we have successfully completed this crucial step.

Concurrently, we have defined and established frameworks for assessing impacts. Additionally, we have evaluated various secondary data options and initiated scenario analyses. These efforts are integral to quantifying the tangible impact of our process and product, with the overarching goal of identifying strategies to minimize our carbon footprint.

By conducting a thorough LCA, LCC and SLCA, we are not only ensuring accountability and transparency but also driving meaningful progress towards sustainability and societal consideration in our operations.

Finally, to optimize the impact of the project results, comprehensive dissemination and communication activities have been under taken during this initial phase (WP7). The consortium has actively contributed to the following key activities, ensuring that our project resonates far beyond its borders:

• Informing Stakeholders: Through extensive dissemination efforts, stakeholders are kept informed about our project's progress, goals, and achievements.

• Building Awareness: Our communication strategies aim to raise awareness about the importance and relevance of our project.

• Engaging Stakeholders: The WhiteCycle project hosted its first dissemination workshop on November 28th,2023, at the Michelin R&D Center in Clermont-Ferrand, France.

• Fostering Collaboration and Networking: Collaboration is central to our approach, and we actively forge partnerships and networks within and beyond our project to amplify our impact and reach.

 

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