Good news for the environment from Freiberg: From plastic waste to raw material

A "hill" of waste and a plate with granulate.
Freiberg University develops innovative technology for a holistic solution to a global problem.

The transition to a circular carbon economy is the way to go in order to solve a seemingly unsolvable contradiction: Plastic is indispensable in our daily lives. However, it soon becomes trash and ends up in the waste incineration, or even worse, is discarded indiscriminately and pollutes the environment. Should we have a guilty conscience if we throw plastic packaging into the bin? Or must we do without many of our everyday products? No cotton buds or straws in the future, or recycle all drinking bottles as the EU demands?

Without question, plastic wastage must be stopped. However, abstinence and restrictions address only the symptoms but not the causes. This becomes clear when we look at the “waste mountains” in Asia and in our neighboring countries, not to mention the polluted lakes and oceans. The waste crisis cannot be solved by policy regulation alone. It demands a holistic approach. The missing key component lies in bringing non-recyclable waste back into the carbon system (i.e. circular carbon economy). And the potential is immense. Waste can then become a part of the raw material basis for new chemical products. This kills two birds with one stone. If waste is not burnt, there will be no associated emissions and therefore no CO2. At the same time, imported oil can be replaced and the use of domestic waste as raw material for our industry will increase their resource security.

Innovative Gasification Technology at Institute IEC in Freiberg. Photo: TU Bergakademie Freiberg How can we produce new raw materials from waste? The answer is provided by the Institute of Energy Process Engineering and Chemical Engineering (IEC) at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. With an innovative gasification technology, scientists, engineers and technicians from various disciplines have succeeded in producing synthesis gas from 100% waste. This synthesis gas can then be used as raw material for the production of a wide range of chemical products. In addition, IEC succeeded in converting all mineral and metallic impurities as well as non-organic components in the waste into a clean glassy residue. As pollutants are permanently encapsulated in this glassy granulate, its water neutrality allows it to be used as a mineral raw material. Furthermore, the metals in the residue can also be separated with magnets and eddy current and channeled back into the metallurgic cycle, thus contributing to the conservation of metal resources.

Person with pellets at a magnet.Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bernd Meyer, institute director of IEC, presented this technology breakthrough for chemical waste recycling in his opening speech at the International Freiberg Conference on IGCC & XtL Technologies – the leading international conference for carbon conversion technologies to promote the transformation to a circular carbon economy – in Berlin on 04.06.2018.

The challenge now is to make this groundbreaking technology ready for market entry so that it can be used competitively by industry both in Germany and worldwide. The next step is the preparation for a broad economic application to support a holistic and sustainable solution to the global waste problem.

Further Information about the conference:

Fragen beantwortet / Contact: 
Prof. Bernd Meyer, Tel +49 (0)3731/39-4510