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Foam in the News - new chemical recycling
Sustainability and recycling are at the forefront of the foam sector, and there are innovations in development by the day. We often hear problems around plastic bags, bottles and single-use plastics, and the solutions to such issues are already well publicised. However, in addition to this, the foam sector is also making a significant impact in sustainability, recycling the polyurethane foam used in mattresses, shoes and upholstered furniture, among other applications.
One of the world’s leading providers of polyurethane foam is working with global partners to embrace the ‘circular economy’ supply chain. The plan is for the PU materials used to be forever recyclable in an infinite lifecycle. Covestro, a polymer production company, has named this new activity ‘smart chemolysis’. It uses chemical engineering principles to deteriorate polyurethane foam back down to the original elements used in its construction.
A historic challenge encountered when chemically recycling polyurethane foam was that it decomposes at high temperatures, meaning that unlike lots of other materials, it cannot be melted. Given the versatility of this foam, it has never needed to be broken down as it has always been recycled in alternative ways, such as repurposing and processing it into crumb foam that is frequently used in public transport and hospitality seating. Covestro is developing another method to add to the recycling methods commonly used by the sector, except Covestro is now investigating the use of chemical catalysts to break the foam down into polyol and TDA.
Covestro is currently undertaking this work in Leverkusen, Germany, and it is likely to span throughout Europe if successful. In addition to the process that breaks down polyurethane foam, Covestro is also developing a process to recover and recycle TDS (toluene diamine), a key component of polyurethane.
In addition to the chemical innovation underway with the company, Covestro has also been praised for how it sorts foam at the very start of the process. Covestro’s primary focus at present is to chemically recycle polyurethane foam commonly used in mattresses. Given that many mattresses include many different parts, Covestro has pioneered a technology that uses algorithms to identify and sort various foam parts within a mattress. Their technology separates the different types of foam to remove some pieces treated with additives and fillers. These foams are then dealt with separately.
The work of Covestro is just a small snapshot of the wider recycling and sustainability initiatives currently underway throughout the foam sector. For example, Dow, a chemicals company, is also investing in their own research to chemically recycle polyurethane foams and other materials. The company is focusing on recovering polyols in particular – the additional building blocks for foam – and hopes to supply its recycled polyols to the commercial sector this year.
Sustainability is at the heart of eFoam operations, and eFoam is proud to only work with suppliers and other companies that manufacture their resources via sustainable materials and methods.
For more information on our environmental promises and environmentally friendly operations, please visit our dedicated blog. Alternatively, please contact one of our friendly advisors should you have any questions.