Plastic waste is one of the major threats to our ecosystems and the current end-of-life given to plastics negatively affects the environment. Circular economy is about to optimally manage waste in order to create an effective after-use plastic economy as a main strategy to promote recycling rates of plastics and to avoid further plastic littering on land and sea.
Many efforts and investment in thermoplastics have already been made, however, there has not been such focus put on thermoset plastics which are becoming a challenge for industry waste management, in particular those involving thermoset composite materials.
The use of composite materials has gained interest in recent years due to their unique properties such as high mechanical strength, good chemical resistance, and long durability together with its great lightness and corrosion resistance which make them very attractive for a large number of applications in many high technological sectors, such as aeronautics, automotive, construction, energy, sports, electronics, etc (which are high value sectors and new incomers into BBI). Composite materials are formed by the combination of a polymer matrix (resin, either thermoset, thermoplastic or biobased) and a reinforcing agent (carbon, glass or natural fibres). However, they still have many technical limitations such as their end-of-life due to their inherent complexity and the difficulty in applying an eco-design, generating plastic waste.
In the case of thermoset composites, the problem increases because, unlike thermoplastic (for which other effective recycling options do exist), these materials cannot be melted be they contain, in their structure polymers with crosslinks that form irreversible chemical bonds which harden permanently once they are heated, hindering their recycling. Therefore, most of the waste of thermoset composites, from production or end-of-life, aren’t currently properly recycled and they are either incinerated (41.6%) or diverted to landfill (27.3%).
BIZENTE supports the transition towards a Circular Economy through an innovative approach which considers the new business models supported by Industrial Symbiosis in which wastes of an industry become the sustainable feedstocks for another.
BIZENTE solution resolves the end-of-life issues of thermoset composites based on the development of a new technology focused on the controlled biodegradation of these materials by means of the use of enzymes contributing to decrease the amount of non-biodegradable polymers currently discharged in at least a 40%.
Once the new technology developed in BIZENTE is optimised and scaled-up to a pilot semi-industrial environment, the products obtained after the enzymatic biodegradation process will be studied in order to return them to the market by means of their valorisation as new feedstocks for different chemicals or building blocks.