Chemicals specialist Evonik has used its expertise in polyurethane (PU) chemistry to develop an efficient chemical recycling process for converting flexible PU foams back to the original polyol raw material, and says this new hydrolysis recycling process has the potential to achieve circularity in the flexible PU foam industry.
As the next phase of the development, Evonik will scale-up trials of its new process, which has been further strengthened by its partnership with The Vita Group, which has trialled the recycled polyols from Evonik's hydrolysis process in several of its flexible foam applications.
According to the latest report from EUROPUR (the European association of flexible PU foam block manufacturers), some 40 million mattresses are discarded each year in Europe alone, with the majority ending up as landfill, creating the equivalent of 600 kilotons of waste – including more than 300 kilotons of PU foam. With the potential to recycle the main component materials used in flexible PU foams and PU foam-based mattresses, Evonik’s process offers significantly higher use levels of the recycled polyol compared with existing commercialised technologies.
“It’s only by recycling products back to their raw materials and reusing them over and over again that we will enable a fully circular economy,” says Ralph Marquardt, head of Evonik’s PU additives business. “Our new hydrolysis process delivers recyclates of a quality and performance similar to that of virgin raw materials. Thus, innovative foam producers like our partner The Vita Group can meet their own sustainability targets, while continuing to deliver high-quality PU products.”
Ian W Robb, group CEO of The Vita Group (pictured), adds: “The Vita Group is renowned for our long history of innovation in sustainability and investing in circular economy products. We recycle and rebond over 30,000 tons of trim each year, as part of our dynamic sustainability agenda.
"Sustainability and innovation are central principles of every aspect of our business. We see it as our responsibility to be at the vanguard of the development of eco-friendly technology within our industry. This hugely exciting partnership represents a key milestone on our journey to achieving the circular economy we are all striving for, and we look forward to working closely together with Evonik.”