Biobased materials differ from conventional petrobased mass plastics in many respects: They are generally more expensive, tend to emit an odor, and exhibit natural fluctuations in terms of their precise composition and volume ratios. What’s more, their properties differ so widely from conventional plastics that they are unsuitable as a direct substitute. Yet the use of renewable raw and residual materials holds immense potential for increasing sustainability in plastics processing.
To achieve this in the long term, the network will develop new materials from renewable raw and residual substances, and improve existing materials. For instance, plastics made of field grass will be expanded in terms of their food compatibility, and new bioplastics will be produced from previously unused residual materials. The goal of material development is to ensure that products made from the new materials have application-optimized functionalities.
In addition to the often sophisticated technical requirements that plastic products must meet, they must also satisfy high aesthetic demands in many applications. To fulfill all these requirements, companies are increasingly manufacturing composites that are difficult to separate into their component parts after use. This often makes it challenging to generate material flows that are suitable for recycling in terms of their purity, the quantities produced and the continuity of material availability. Another challenge is the processing of high-quality plastics for use in the food sector, where particularly stringent hygiene regulations apply.
In the interests of sustainability, the network is pursuing several approaches for the further use of different mixed-plastic products after their intended usage phase. One idea is to treat certain plastics to make them suitable for use in the food sector. Furthermore, the design of recyclable composites is a promising approach to reducing material waste and the volume of waste produced.
The processing of plastics is energy-intensive. Both energy recovery and processing chains for large-scale manufacturing are generally already automated. However, the ever-rising demand for individual products is dramatically increasing the percentage of non-automated small batches. The associated material changes and quality assurance measures pose a challenge. In addition, since quality assurance currently consists of random spot checks after production, it is not possible to determine to what extent fluctuating material quality influences the end product.
The network intends to automate processes previously carried out manually and to develop automation solutions for individual small batches. Quality-assurance processes that enable precise intervention in production during the manufacturing process have an advantage: They heighten resource efficiency and component quality. In addition, scrap material and waste can be reduced and avoided.