Materials Science

Improving the recycling of polyurethane plastics

Together with partners, Covestro is investigating how recycling polyurethane plastics can be significantly improved. The materials manufacturer is part of the new Europe-wide research project called “PUReSmart”, which comprises nine companies and academic institutions from six countries. The goal is to develop a complete circular product life cycle and turn polyurethane into a truly sustainable material. One of the materials made of polyurethane is soft and hard foam, which is required for mattresses and upholstered furniture as well as for insulating buildings and cooling devices.

PUReSmart will run for four years and will receive six million euros from the European Union under the Horizon 2020 research and innovation program (grant agreement No. 814543). The project, coordinated by the Belgian company Recticel, aims to recover 90 percent of the used polyurethane in order to create building blocks for existing or new products – for example a new polymer that combines the durability of thermosets with the recyclability of thermoplastics. Intelligent sorting methods are particularly important for efficient chemical recycling.

Covestro is working on the best possible chemical recycling of polyurethanes after use during the project along with the qualitative treatment of the material flows that are generated during this. The aim is to obtain high-quality raw materials for new polyurethane applications. “Polyurethanes are a particularly versatile and widely used class of plastics that provide comfort and safety in many applications worldwide and, as an insulating material, contribute to energy savings and thus to sustainability,” says Dr. Nikola Schuck, who heads Covestro’s contributions to PUReSmart. “Now it’s time to increase the sustainable value of the material at the end of its useful life.”

In addition to Covestro and Recticel, the companies BT-Wolfgang Binder (Austria), WeylChem InnoTec (Germany), Ecoinnovazione SRL (Italy) and Ayming (France) are involved in the PUReSmart consortium, which stands for a seamless and complete value-added chain in polyurethane reprocessing. Other academic partners are the University of Ghent (Belgium), KU Leuven (Belgium) and the Universidad de Castilla – La Mancha (Spain).