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CAN POLYURETHANES BE RECYCLED?

Yes, all polyurethanes can be recycled.

However, the most environmentally sound choice may not always be recycling. Recycling requires a great deal of energy and, in some cases, the most sensible option is energy recovery. In the EU, this is achieved through clean and careful incineration, whereby pollutants are filtered out and energy is produced as a result of the combustion process.

The impending laws about recycling in the automotive industry, and the availability of scrap polyurethane foam that can be processed at reasonable costs, are catching the interest of molded foam manufacturers regarding the possibility to use recycled foam in the production of new PU foam parts.  

Generally speaking, for all foam manufacturers the availability of inexpensive raw material for their foam plant can improve the foam manufacturing process economics. Therefore, both processes must be looked at separately with respect to recycling. Using some PU recycled content in manufacturing new foam is not incompatible with rebound operation, and in fact it may be complementary, since the two processes share several steps. 


Commonly, high-pressure machines processing filled Polyol suffer wear of mechanical parts such as piston pumps and injection nozzles. It is usually suggested to use filled raw materials only with machines equipped with metering cylinders and hardened nozzles. However, this kind of machine requires complicated and expensive solutions in order to fit the fast cycle time requested in the production of seats and head-rests for automotive applications. 


Companies have also investigated the possibility to use recycled powered polyurethanes. For this reason, following the proven efficiency of the Companies axial injection technology, already successfully implemented for mixing color paste, and with the well-known AX multi-components mixing head, Company’s engineers applied those concepts in designing the new filler injection system. Filled Polyol is injected in the mixing chamber along the pouring piston axis and, therefore, perpendicularly to the streams of the two main components. 


The obtained results are most interesting for the flexible molded foam manufacturers supplying molded PU products to the automotive industry. In particular, recycled PU powder can be used in even higher percentages for the production of car-seat backs and head rests, where the requirements in terms of mechanical and physical properties of the foam are less demanding than in car-seat cushions. 

 

Reaching this goal, Companies has exploited its experience in setting up innovative injection processes for special applications to develop a kit suitable for a wide range of solid fillers. The development of an injection kit for filled components, versatile enough to be implemented on existing machines, could obtain the consensus of the automotive industry, as well as address the new regulations and demand in terms of recycling.

The equipment developed by Companies is able to meter and mix three-component slurry. High-solid-content slurry, obtained by blending ultra fine recycled polyurethane powder in non-catalyzed Polyol as the carrier, is fed as a third stream at low-medium pressure to a mixing head via the axial port of the mixing chamber originally used for metering color paste.