Along with the rest of the world, the MultiCycle partners have been facing up to the challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In the case of MultiCycle this has meant finding answers to questions like how do you assemble, commission and operate a cutting edge technical facility conceived collaboratively and based upon key technology springing from know-how distributed across the EU, and how do you procure, validate, transport and prepare representative feedstocks drawn from industry relevant sources when these are usually considered wastes of low or no nominal value.

The first milestone on the way to a pilot plant was the development and engineering of all necessary process steps and connecting the steps into a complete and operable plant. The MultiCycle Pilot plant has to be suitable for several objectives, especially the recycling of different polymers from different waste streams. The resultant plant therefore, is adapted to the CreaSolv® Process and is suitable for all conditions that are needed for a smooth process flow of the different types of polymers considered within the project scope.

MultiCycle Pilot Plant

After a considerable effort during the engineering phase, the MultiCycle Pilot Demonstrator was built, installed and commissioned by LOEMI GmbH during the COVID-19 pandemic. The installation and commissioning phases especially were affected by the pandemic and the lockdowns all over Europe, something which introduced a whole new dimension to the difficulties of procuring all the necessary parts and equipment on time. Nevertheless the successfully installed pilot plant is now being operated by the staff of Fraunhofer IVV and LOEMI, who have been able to address optimizing the process in turn for various waste source streams and target polymer types. Feedstocks have been obtained from waste streams selected sourced and collected by members of the MultiCycle project to represent a range of post-industrial and post-consumer streams have been prepared for processing in the MultiCycle Pilot plant, demonstrating dissolution based recycling of target polymers, including PE, PP & PA.

An effective monitoring system for materials identification

Addressing the challenge of identifying the composition of the incoming material mixtures for the correct application of the CreaSolv® technology, and in recycling processes more generally, requires an efficient and effective advanced monitoring system. IRIS Technology Solutions has designed, built and validated two real-time, in-line prototypes to work at pilot plant scale (processing 25 kg/h of materials), one dedicated to multilayer packaging / flexible film characterization and the other to fibre-reinforced thermoplastic composites.

Conventional monitoring systems can only achieve limited results for these material. For packaging materials for instance, NIR spectroscopy is commonly used in various stages of sorting by waste management facilities, but are generally calibrated only to identify nanomaterials, and the technique cannot handle black plastic or fibre-reinforced materials. Taking advantage of their experience in new monitoring systems development, IRIS carried out an in-depth analysis of a variety of molecular and atomic spectroscopic techniques in conjunction with advanced AI data processing algorithms developed and integrated as part of the project, and were able to produce and validate the two innovative prototypes which overcome the current technological limitations.

These prototypes have been embodied within integrated systems, combining the core spectroscopic camera hardware and AI algorithm software with a material supply feeder / conveyor system, and an on-board digital platform for data acquisition, management and visualization in real time. Additionally, a Process Analytical Technologies (PAT) platform has been equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) models to make informed decisions about the recycling process and cost-benefit information based on the materials typology and process parameters.

Advanced compositional monitoring prototypes have been integrated with conveying equipment and sophisticated data acquisition, real-time visualization and AI-based decision support systems.

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