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Fraunhofer project aims to leverage potential for plastics recycling

A technical device with hoses and two camera lenses for sorting plastic waste

The Waste4Future lighthouse project aims to significantly increase the mechanical recycling of plastics through sensor-assisted sorting, among other things.

Eight institutes and facilities of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are pooling their expertise in the Waste4Future lighthouse project to develop new solutions for the recycling of plastics. The project is coordinated by the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS. As part of the development of new concepts and processes, a sensor suite is planned that will also recognise black waste parts, according to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Many types of packaging are not even categorised as recyclable in the sorting plants and therefore end up in an incineration plant. Many of the current sensor systems would not recognise black plastic, for example, emphasises the IWKS. Yoghurt pots with aluminium lids also mistakenly ended up with aluminium and then in residual waste. This is where the project participants come in with the development of a sensor suite for sorting systems. Using a combination of different sensor technologies, both the material parameters and the suitability of the material for material processes are to be determined for the purest possible sorting. Excessively damaged or contaminated fractions that can no longer be mechanically recycled but can only be chemically utilised are also to be detected by the sensor suite, which is installed above the conveyor belt of a sorting plant. Compressed air nozzles will then be used to sort out either the desired target materials or unwanted contaminants.
 
According to IWKS, the new sorting technology will be combined with machine learning methods and digital twins as well as an evaluation model that will dynamically determine which recycling method is the most technically, ecologically and economically sensible for a specific amount of waste. The project is to examine the possible mechanical (melt extrusion, solvent-based purification and fractionation) and chemical (solvolysis, pyrolysis, gasification) recycling processes and test their suitability for different plastic waste compositions. At the end of the project in December 2024, components made from secondary plastics will also be compared with virgin material.
 
According to the information provided, the following institutes and facilities of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft are involved in the project:
 
• Fraunhofer-Einrichtung für Wertstoffkreisläufe und Ressourcenstrategie IWKS
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Hochfrequenzphysik und Radartechnik FHR
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Keramische Technologien und Systeme IKTS
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Betriebsfestigkeit und Systemzuverlässigkeit LBF
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Mikrostruktur von Werkstoffen und Systemen IMWS
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Optronik, Systemtechnik und Bildauswertung IOSB
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Verfahrenstechnik und Verpackung IVV
• Fraunhofer-Institut für Zerstörungsfreie Prüfverfahren IZFP
. 
Sources:

  • Press release Fraunhofer IWKS (01.03.2024)
  • Photo: © Holger Jacoby

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