Around $13 million in Cooperative Research Centre Projects (CRC-P) grants for green economy projects has been awarded to researchers and their commercial partners in Sydney and Melbourne to enable Australia to reduce plastic waste and boost plastics recycling.
According to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews the projects demonstrated the great economic opportunities in waste recycling.
“This funding will support Australian businesses and researchers as they forge new markets to limit the use of plastics and create recycled products,” she said.
Chemically convert unrecyclable plastics
The University of Sydney (USYD) has received almost $10 million in funding across three projects. As a result, the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and the Waste Transformation Research Hub will work alongside Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGE) to oversee a project to chemically convert plastics that are currently unrecyclable.
Associate professor Ali Abbas who is leading the project said that the global problem of plastic waste has become a challenge in Australia, due to the lack of facilities to deal with mixed and contaminated post-consumer plastics.
“The objective of our project is to adapt existing process technology to cost-effectively recycle otherwise non-recyclable mixed plastics,” Abbas said.
“Our intent is to focus on chemically recycling the waste plastic back to the manufacturing of virgin plastic, to close the loop on the circular economy.”
IGE Chairman Paul Dickson explained that the outcome of the project is to deliver a further range of products from end of life plastics.
“The unique combination of the IGE knowhow, a government grant and the University’s expertise will surely accelerate the achievement of creating a cleaner planet for the next generation,” he said.
Miniaturised separation bio-polymer reactor
Separtis, a sustainable waste management solution company, is working with Dr Alejandro Montoya, leader of the Waste Transformation Research Hub to design and operate a miniaturised separation bio-polymer reactor. This will then inform the design of a larger plant, to be constructed at an existing waste plastics collection facility at Orange, NSW.
The technology will use patented bio-polymers (derived from renewable sources) to break down co-mingled and contaminated waste plastics without the need to sort the waste stream. The waste plastics can then be reconstituted into other plastics, without any loss in strength.
“The proposed technology operates at atmospheric conditions with catalysts derived from biomass resources without the need for large amounts of external energy. The technology can be expanded across multiple value chains and industries, making it ideal to operate in regional areas,” Montoya said.
Cleaner milk bottles
A CRC-P grant was also awarded to PEGRAS Asia Pacific, the NSW Smart Sensing Network, and the USYD’s Faculty of Science for a project that aims to make the process of recycling milk bottles cleaner and more efficient.
“Presently, when plastic milk bottles arrive at a recycling plant, they are chopped up and put through a washing process aimed at removing glue, labels, and other impurities,” director of the Key Centre For Polymer Colloids, associate professor Brian Hawkett said.“We are looking at both the physical and chemical ways whereby we can better separate other components from the HDPE so that the resultant product is purer,” he added.
Meanwhile, an additional $2.9m will underwrite the development of a Victorian plant to turn the plastic waste from the rectification work of hazardous building cladding into recycled shoes and prefabricated building elements.
“Once they reach the end of their life, the shoes and building products can again be recycled, supporting the circular economy of waste and recycling,” Andrews said.
“This project demonstrates an enormous opportunity from using the waste materials as a result of replacing hazardous building cladding.”
Applications for Round 9 of the CRC-P grants opened on February 13 and close on March 19.