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Comment Separation Processes

Solvent-based process to recycle multilayered film

By Gerald Ondrey |

Later this year (Q4 2018), APK AG (Merseburg, Germany; www.apk-ag.de) will start up the first commercial plant to recycle multilayer packaging using the company’s solvent-based Newcycling process. The plant will process 8,000 metric tons per year (m.t./yr) of post-industrial multilayer film waste into pure, sorted polyethylene (PE) and polyamide (PA) re-granulates (approximately 2/3 PE and 1/3 PA). Because the quality of the products is similar to virgin resins, granulate from the Newcycling process can be reused in applications such as flexible packaging.

In the Newcycling process (diagram), PE/PA multilayer films are first shredded into flakes. The flakes are fed to a bath (1) containing a solvent that dissolves PE, enabling the PA to be mechanically separated (2). The solvent is recovered (4) and reused, and the two product streams are then extruded and pelletized (3).

Alternative mechanical recycling methods, which consist of shredding, washing, density sorting and extrusion, are unable to handle multilayer films, so such waste has typically been incinerated or recycled into lower-quality granulate suitable for low-value applications, such as pallets. In contrast, the Newcycling process results in a much higher-value recycling of the films, producing granulate close to virgin material, says the company. By proper selection of the solvent used, other film laminates can also be recycled, such as polypropylene (PP) and flexible PP (fPP), and other plastics are under development.

APK is planning a second plant that will handle a minimum of 25,000 m.t./yr of post-consumer plastic waste, with startup planned for the end of 2020. APK is also involved in a number of additional projects: A joint-development project with Henkel (Düsseldorf, Germany), Mondi Group (Vienna, Austria) and Borealis AG (Vienna, Austria) to replace virgin low-density PE (LDPE) by LDPE re-granulates from Newcycling process; a cooperation agreement with Royal DSM (Heerlen, the Netherlands) for recycling PE/PA6 film; and a strategic partnership with MOL Group (Budapest, Hungary) to further support the commercialization of the technology.

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