The waste from plastic and tires at the end of their useful lives is one of the biggest problems facing waste management today.
Therefore, the CSIC (ICTP, ICB, and ICP), the Gaiker Foundation, and the companies NASIKA PRODUCTS, ARKEMA QUIMICA, REPSOL, and VALORIZA SERVICIOS MEDIOAMBIENTALES are collaborating on a project called SusChemPol (enhancing circularity by using renewable monomers and sustainable chemical strategies of polymer upcycling), the purpose of which is to generate more sustainable chemical recycling strategies to obtain value-added molecules and monomers from waste.
From these compounds we can create polymers to re-manufacture quality plastic products. Running from September 2021 until September 2024, SusChemPol is subsidized by the Ministry of Science and Innovation, as part of a range of strategic R+D+i projects.
Plastic is everywhere. Analyses of water, soil, and even biological organisms confirm as much. This is the result of an annual increase in global polymer production, which consistently outpaces global GDP and population growth.
The strength and durability that make plastic so useful during its functional lifespan become serious drawbacks once products are jettisoned, typically in landfills where they leach into the environment.
One major problem is single-use polymers. The recovered plastic is valorized through primary and secondary recycling or, more commonly, burned for energy production.
A large percentage (40%) of post-consumer plastic packaging ends up in landfills, where nearly all of its intrinsic value is lost. Moreover, only 2% of all recovered plastic packaging is reused for applications of the same or similar quality.
Tires at the end of their useful lives plant in Chiloeches (Guadalaja, Spain). Valoriza
In this context, the next big challenge for polymer chemistry is to develop materials and processes that can be efficiently recycled into source materials, as is the case with chemical recycling into monomers (CRM) or crude oil fractions.
The polymers produced from recovered monomeric raw materials do not lose their properties; rather, the process recovers the intrinsic value and mitigates adverse environmental effects. Nevertheless, CRM capability is insufficient to establish an ideal polymer economy: polymer performance must meet the demands of countless applications.
Tire powder and granules.
The SusChemPol project aims to address this challenge by focusing on four main objectives:
- To develop profitable, sustainable, and scalable chemical recycling alternatives based on the chemolysis, chemocatalysis, thermolysis, and devulcanization processes to recover three main polymers: polyester, polystyrene (and its derivatives), and rubber.
- To eco-design alternative synthesis strategies to produce polymers (particularly polymer networks) that can be recycled and reused.
- To assess the material upcycling of recycled and renewable monomers, transforming them into new polymers, coatings, or other sustainable, value-added products.
- To develop predictive models to assess the quality of chemically recycled monomers/oils based on complex mixtures of various materials found in actual waste streams.
Testing will be conducted at the CSCI’s facilities.