HF flame retardants: the recycling challenge

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The project aims to plug into a €3bn market for flame retardant plastics

Fraunhofer LBF in Germany is leading a project to boost mechanical recycling of plastics containing halogen-free flame retardants.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Structural Durability and System Reliability LBF, the Germany-based application-oriented research organisation, has launched a new research project focused on the recycling of halogen-free flame retardant plastics.

The project has been developed against a backdrop of growing European ambitions for “zero waste to landfill”. In December, the European Commission released its revised Circular Economy Package with proposals including: common EU targets for recycling 65% of municipal waste and 75% of packaging waste by 2030; and a binding target to reduce landfill to a maximum of 10% of all waste by 2030.

Fraunhofer LBF says the project could lead to an annual saving of €150m from processors using flame retardant production waste. The value of re-using end-of-life plastics will be even higher.

In Europe, Fraunhofer LBF estimates that around 70% halogen-free flame retardants based on phosphorus, inorganic substances and nitrogen are already in use in a market with a value of around €3bn. These additives are mainly used in plastics for the electrical and electronics, construction and transportation industries.

The use of flame retardants can prevent the fire spreading or slow down its development, so are extremely important in stopping injury or loss of life in the case of an accidental fire, when used in areas such as household items. But the institute highlights there is very little knowledge about the mechanical recycling of these plastics.

It is hoped the research project into mechanical recycling of halogen-free flame retardant plastics will lead to enhanced quality products with high safety standards. It is intended to identify potential hazards of degradation products which can then be eliminated from the process.

Another aim is to minimise risks such as product liability when using recyclates, due to the data compiled during the project.

Fraunhofer LBF states that although the research is part of an ongoing multi-year project, the findings should be able to be used immediately by participating companies. The research will save companies money by recycling process waste and allow them to build new business areas concentrating on recycled materials, along with limiting the amount of raw materials used.

The investigation will be partly funded by the Industrial Community Research of the AiF in Germany, which promotes projects with a maximum requesting amount of about €250,000 per delivery point, said Fraunhofer LBF. The project will take place with the participation of member companies of Pinfa (Phosphorus, Inorganic & Nitrogen Flame Retardants Association). Pinfa’s membership includes: A. Schulman, Adeka, BASF, Budenheim, BYK, Clariant, CTF 2000, Dartex, DSM, DuPont, Everkem, FRX Polymers, Italmatch Chemicals, Lanxess, Metadynea, Nabaltec, Perstorp, Presafer, Schill & Seilacher, Solvay, Thor, William Blythe and Inemi.

The members of Pinfa work to continuously improve the environmental and health profile of their flame retardant products. Pinfa currently has working groups and research projects in the areas of fire safety, environment and ecolabels, recycling, and communications and outreach.

The halogen-free retardant plastics research being carried out by Fraunhofer LBF will be of particular use to polymer, flame retardant and additive manufacturers, compounders, masterbatch producers, producers of plastic parts, recycling companies and consulting firms, the institute says.

It also points out that small and medium-sized companies should benefit from the results of the research, as they will be able to reduce costs and, at the same time, produce new high quality products that meet safety standards.

Faunhofer LBF says its plastics division is constantly extending its knowledge of recyclates and states that with the addition of customised stabilisers, compatibilisers and reactive additives, recycled materials can achieve qualities that can really compete with those of new material. Although the number of recyclates is increasing, the current problem faced is how to develop the best technical and economic solution for the property profile.

Fraunhofer LBF’s customers come from automotive and commercial vehicle construction, shipbuilding, aviation, machine and plant construction, power engineering, electrical engineering, construction, medical engineering, the chemical industry and other industries. The research organisation has around 400 employees. Its technology is housed in more than 11,560 square metres of laboratory and experimental space at locations in Bartningstrasse and Schlossgartenstrasse in Germany.

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