The final webinar was opened by the project coordinator Guy Buyle of Centexbel, who gave an introductory presentation about the project’s key accomplishments and overarching goals. DECOAT, recognising the need and value of adding coatings to materials that enhance their functionality, focused on developing methods to remove coatings from products for better recyclability. The project centered around two approaches. One was the development of a technology to give coatings a built-in functionality that facilitates their removal at end-of-life through debonding on demand. The second approach used a solvent technology to remove the coating from materials. Buyle noted that the push for recycling is necessary and increasingly urgent given the EU’s emphasis on circular material use, particularly in the plastic and textile sectors. Buyle highlighted the various partners involved in the project, including end users, technology providers, research and technology development partners, and those supporting innovation. The project, funded under Horizon 2020, started in 2019 and is now concluding with some very good results. Buyle also acknowledged the importance of the DECOAT project in facilitating circular material use, especially considering the increasing focus on sustainability and circularity that has arisen since the project’s inception.
Ine De Vilder’s presentation primarily focused on the challenge of recycling coated textile and painted plastics. These materials often hinder the recycling process due to their protective coatings, which while useful in enhancing performance and aesthetic, currently result in materials being incinerated or sent to landfill. The DECOAT project introduces an extra step in the recycling process to debond the coatings from the bulk material, paving the way for a circular approach. They’ve developed two strategies for this: using debonding on demand triggerable coatings which are implemented during the design phase, or solvent-based recycling. For debonding on demand, different triggers such as heat, moisture, and microwaves have been experimented with, and results showed varying levels of success. Notably, the project demonstrated how coatings could be effectively removed from materials like PVC foil, automotive parts, and textiles. Additionally, the DECOAT project incorporated optical sorting by using fluorescent dyes as markers for products containing debonding triggers, assisting in identifying and sorting materials based on their recycling requirements. The project conducted material studies to understand the impact of aging and the recycling process on material properties, and the project also conducted supporting studies to ensure economic viability, environmental footprint, and risk assessment.
Johannes Schneider from Fraunhofer IVV introduced three primary types of plastic recycling: energetic (or incineration), chemical, and material recycling. In the material recycling method, which the Creasolv process falls under, the target polymer is selectively dissolved, cleaned of impurities, and dried, resulting in a pure product comparable to virgin material. In DECOAT a similar solvent based solution was used, this time dissolving the coating instead. At the laboratory scale, the team observed three different debonding mechanisms – dissolving, delaminating, and partial dissolving or delaminating. The processing conditions had to be tailored to each substrate or coating material and their combination, based on their specific debonding behavior. Numerous tests were performed with different types of textile and plastic substrate materials, including polyester and PA textiles, PU, ABS, PC, ABS from automotive or electronic applications, and a variety of coatings. While most combinations tested successfully, some challenges arose when the coating and substrate had similar dissolution behavior or when certain coatings didn’t debond due to solvent treatment. Following successful lab-scale testing, the process was upscaled to a small technical scale using a small technical plant. The team selected two demonstrators for the solvent-based recycling process: PCB sockets coated with a decalogue from Panasonic and a polyester textile coated with a slightly cross-linked PU coating. Both materials were successfully processed at the pilot line, producing recyclates with only a slight decrease in molecular weight.
Vicent Martinez spoke about the DECOAT project aims to develop methods to separate coatings from bulk material, ending up with easily recyclable parts. He noted that plastic substrates can be coated with various substances to enhance surface properties and aesthetic appeal, but these coatings present challenges for recycling due to their strong adhesion to the substrate and thermoset nature. In the project, triggerable additives were incorporated into a primer layer applied to the plastic surface. These can be activated through heat to debond the coating layers, after which the plastic parts can be mechanically recycled. Martinez presented two case studies involving mechanical recycling of automotive components and decorative electrical parts. In the first case, an interior dashboard panel was manufactured, coated, then the coating was debonded through thermal activation. After grinding and sieving, the plastic was compounded with virgin material and specialty additives to produce ABS recyclate pellets. The process was carried out in three loops, with each loop maintaining good mechanical performance, albeit with a slight decrease in impact strength. The second case, still ongoing, involves the recycling of decorative electric trims manufactured by Panasonic. The process is similar to the first case and is expected to produce quality ABS recyclate.
In her presentation, Natalia Chebaeva, discusses assessing the eco-design potential of debonding solutions. The key question is whether the benefits of the debonding process, such as enabling recycling, outweigh the impacts of the added processes. To assist the implementation of the DECOAT solutions, an eco-design tool was developed to help manufacturers identify eco-design strategies and determine applicability to their products, the benefits, and challenges. This tool was developed based on the concept of sustainability assessment levels, which match the technology readiness level with the sustainability assessment levels that are reasonable to apply at each stage of development. The tool was developed in two stages, initially focusing on hotspotting, then, once pilot scale data was available, it incorporated more high-certainty, quantitative assessments. The tool itself, split into an online part and a spreadsheet, requires input data from the industry such as the substrate material, the coating, and performance parameters. The system then matches this data with the most suitable solution from the DECOAT project. The online tool focuses on compatibility, while the spreadsheet requires more quantitative data but provides more detailed advice and assessment. Finally, Chebaeva presents the five core categories that the tool considers: compatibility, environmental performance, circularity, business economics, and safety. Each category has its own page for users interested in more detailed information. She emphasizes that this tool is intended as a starting point for users to introduce DECOAT solutions into their own systems to improve the performance of their products.
Manos Sofianopoulos presented on innovative business models in the recycling industry. He noted the growth in the recycling facilities industry and the global waste recycling services market, which is expected to reach nearly $90 billion by 2028 due to increased consumer awareness about the environmental impact of waste. He highlighted challenges faced by companies , including increased costs, complexity, decreased efficiency, and potentially lower quality products. He suggested that this can be addressed with suitable business models, and stressed that many modern successful businesses do not sell directly but rather act as middlemen or brokers. He also mentioned business models that prioritize the welfare of people and the planet over profit, and models that engage volunteers or enter into long-term relationships with partners. In the context of the recycling industry, he mentioned disruptive innovative business models including freemium, subscription, marketplace, premium experience, pyramid, ecosystem, and on-demand models. Manos discussed several case studies of companies employing these innovative business models. He mentioned the Adidas Futurecraft loop model, a running shoe designed to be returned, broken down, and reused to create new running shoes. He also talked about a company that rents baby clothes, which are then returned, cleaned, redistributed, and reused. Other companies he mentioned include H&M, which collects textiles for reuse and recycling, and Mr. Green Africa, a plastics recycling startup. Manos concluded that the emerging trends in the recycling industry include collaborative consumption platforms that facilitate peer-to-peer transactions of second-hand items and the incorporation of blockchain or other traceability systems to track and verify the origins of materials.