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Circular Flooring Expert Days 2021

The first Circular Flooring Expert Days took place from December 6th to 7th 2021 as an online event due to the current Covid-19 situation. Bringing together the partners from our Circular Flooring project and stakeholders from the industry, the Circular Flooring Expert Days focused on the latest developments of the PVC market and our project’s recycling processes. In addition, the event focused on providing information on the project scope, technologies and approaches while discussing its results of the first two years with the invited experts and assessing market trends of the PVC flooring sector.

The project coordinator Martin Schlummer – Deputy Head of the Process Development for Polymer Recycling-Division at Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging (IVV) – opened the event and introduced the project and its key technologies. Next, Siegrun Kittelberger – Senior Consultant at Sphera AG – spoke about the developments towards a circular building and construction sector and the need for holistic Life-Cycle-Assessments as intended in Circular Flooring and effective certification schemes. Then, Jane Gardner – Managing Director at European Resilient Flooring Manufacturers’ Association (ERFMI) – and Jochen Zimmermann – Managing Director of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft PVC-Bodenbelag Recycling (AgPR) – presented the first project results on market figures of available waste material and future scenarios as well as the policy-related motivation for the project. Subsequently, Marcel Gmür – Sales and Marketing Director at Forbo Flooring Systems and member of the Board of Directors at Switzerland’s Working Group for the Recycling of PVC Floor Coverings (ARP Schweiz) – explained the perspective of ARP Switzerland on that topic. As the closing presentation of Day 1, Thomas Hülsmann – Executive Director at VinylPlus Deutschland e.V. – presented the VinlyPlus® commitment of the European PVC-Sector.

Following the presentations, a discussion arose on feasibility and financing possibilities regarding indisputably necessary measures to implement a circular PVC flooring economy, such as waste logistics and the installation of recycling plants. To make this cost-effective, it is essential to identify the most suitable locations with enough material available close-by, since the transportation costs constitute a significantly high position. However, the general availability of PVC flooring waste containing legacy plasticisers is secured, but in many cases, incentives for waste collection are necessary, hence adding up to the transportation costs. Consensus nevertheless emerged that potential political pressure would influence the financing issue. Also, dedicated policy strategies regarding the (cost-efficient) demolition of buildings and separation of waste materials on-site are needed.

The second day of the event started with a short recap of the first day’s presentations and discussion. While there is without a doubt more than enough flooring waste available and good waste logistics in place, the question remains who will pay for the collection. In this regard, some sort of hen-and-egg problem arises. On the one hand, no investment invest in and the start of a large-scale collection will happen if there is no plant existent that can treat the incoming waste stream adequately at overall competitive costs, while on the other hand, there will be no plant if there is not enough feedstock collected. Consequently, it is not a question of whether circularity can be implemented but rather when and how.

Swetlana Wagner – senior scientist and group leader at Fraunhofer IVV –opened the thematic part of the event with an introductory lecture on the CreaSolv® Process and its fundamental mode of operation. Through CreaSolv®, it was possible to remove plasticisers of PVC flooring waste below the legal threshold of 1,000 ppm at lab-scale. Following on from this, Dirk de Vos – Lead of the research group of KU Leuven’s Centre for Membrane separations, Adsorption, Catalysis and Spectroscopy for Sustainable Solutions – and Simon Windels – PhD student in the de Vos group – presented their findings of the hydrogenation and the necessary previous transesterification step to convert legacy plasticisers into non-legacy alternatives. Since there is great complexity in the catalyst deactivation, different measures regarding the specific type and hence the costs of deactivation have to be taken into account in the Circular Flooring business analysis.

Following the scientific background, Michela Mastrantonio – Sector Group Manager at European Plasticisers – provided valuable input regarding the regulatory framework, relevant stakeholder groups and the market potential of the plasticiser industry, with a current estimated value of over 6 billion EUR for the provision of safe plasticisers such as DINP or DINCH.

To illustrate the realisation of a research vision into industrial practice, Lein Tange – Director of PolyStyreneLoop – presented the world’s first plant for PS-foam demolition waste containing the legacy flame-retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) in Terneuzen that has recently started production. The plant also builds on the CreaSolv® Process to dissolve the PS-foam demolition waste and can recycle 3,300 tons per year. A future challenge seems to be the increasing costs for electricity, which might also be essential to consider for the Circular Flooring plant and business model.

The H2020-funded REMADYL project was also invited to discuss commonalities within both projects. Although REMADYL uses different technologies, focuses also on rigid PVC and hence investigates lead stabilisers, there is some complementary action and opportunity to exchange results between the two projects and joint communication.

After the many insightful presentations and discussions, the Circular Flooring Expert Days were drawn to a close with a wrap-up and an outlook on the next project steps and the potential future influence of the project accomplishments on the PVC industry. We want to express our gratitude to the speakers and participants for their fruitful engagement and look forward to the next project event!

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