Project Aims to Create Sustainable Plastics
A new project from European funding program Horizon Europe is reportedly looking to develop an efficient way to create bio-based polymers out of captured carbon emissions from wastewater sludge.
The project, which was launched in September, is reportedly called "Highly Innovative technology demonstration for bio-based CO2 Capture and Utilization for production of bulk plastics applications" (HICCUPS) and will focus on electrochemical conversion as a solution.
A release from the HICCUPS team states that the project is funded by Horizon Europe with a grant of 5 million euros ($5,334,610), and will run until the end of August 2027.
About the Project
According to a report from Sustainable Plastics, the project's key goal is to showcase a complete value chain, going from CO2 capture to the production of polymers for end use, such as polylactic-co-glycolic acid (PLGA).
The HICCUPS team adds that PLGA has strong water and gas barrier properties as it is both renewable and biodegradable and could be a replacement for fossil-based polyethylene. To showcase its potential, new packaging materials will reportedly be made with PLGA film-coated paper and molded plastic.
New project aims to produce bio-based polymers from wastewater sludge https://t.co/Icuxirv51q— Sustainable Plastics (@SustainPlastics) November 13, 2023
The team working on the project is reportedly constructed of 12 partners from seven different countries. Of those 12, four members are reportedly in charge of the CO2 capture and purification process of the CO2 present in the biogas produced during wastewater treatment.
According to the report, these four will build a demonstration plant at a wastewater treatment facility in Spain to study the average characteristics of the gas stream created during the anaerobic digestion of wastewater sludge using scuba gear company Aqualung’s patented membrane technology.
This technology can reportedly offer versatility and flexibility and can allow for highly efficient solutions for CO2 separation from various sources, including flue gas and biogas.
Dutch renewable chemicals manufacturer and project coordinator Avantium will also reportedly utilize its one-step electrochemical conversion technology to turn CO2 into oxalic acid, then reduce it to glycolic acid.
The process will reportedly polymerize this glycolic acid into the CO2-based PLGA. During this step, Avantium plans to work with research partner VTT from Finland, who will be in charge of removing the water from the glycolic acid, allowing the dried glycolic acid to be then polymerized by Avantium.
Additionally, two other partners, packing material producers Walki (Finland) and Tecnopackaging (Spain), will reportedly search for different applications made from PLGA.
PLGA packaging materials will reportedly be manufactured and tested at the companies’ industrial pilot plants. Walki reportedly plans to work on both extrusion and wet coating trials for fiber substrates to produce coated paper and board samples.
On top of this, the research team on bio-based and green polymers at the University of Ferrara (Italy) plans to work on processability research to determine the best conditions for the paper coating.
Additional studies, including digital projections, life cycle analyses, biodegradability and recycling studies and a comprehensive business case analysis are expected to be conducted by the University of Amsterdam, INRAE (France) and nova-Institute (Germany).
Additonally, the nova-Institute and Avantium will be responsible for the dissemination, communication and knowledge transfer of the project.
A kick-off meeting was reportedly held in Amsterdam to discuss the first details relevant in the course of the project. The release from HICCUPS states that this meeting was also a chance for the partners to meet, which often makes working on international projects easier. The release adds that all partners are looking forward to the upcoming four years of research.
In December of last year, a project from the University of South Australia looked at using water treatment sludge to prevent sewer pipes from cracking in the form of self-healing concrete.
Led by sustainable engineering expert Professor Yan Zhuge, the research team tried a novel solution to halt “unprecedented levels of corrosion” in the country’s aging 117,000 kilometers of sewer pipes. The university reports said that the research could have helped to save $1.4 billion in annual maintenance costs.
According to the university’s release, corrosive acid from sulphur-oxidizing bacteria in wastewater, along with excessive loads, internal pressure and temperature fluctuations were cracking pipes and reducing concrete pipeline life span in Australia. This had reportedly cost hundreds of millions of dollars to repair every year across the country.
The researchers stated that self-healing concrete, in the form of microcapsules filled with water treatment sludge, could present a solution.
The team reportedly developed microcapsules with a pH-sensitive shell and a healing agent core containing alum sludge, which is a by-product of wastewater treatment plants, and calcium hydroxide powder. The combination was anticipated to be highly resistant to microbially induced corrosion (MIC).
These microcapsules were then embedded inside the concrete at the final step of mixing to protect it from breakage. When the pH value changed as acid levels build up, microcapsules reportedly released the healing agents.
The university also reported that existing repairs were expensive and often short-lived, with 20% failing after five years and 55% failing after 10 years. While chemicals can be added to wastewater to stop corrosion, they are also costly and contaminate the environment.
Other options reportedly involved increasing the speed of sewage flow by amending the pipe hydraulics or adding surface coatings. However, these methods are not always effective, are time-consuming and their effects are temporary.
By replacing sand and cement with DWTS, the team anticipated effectively eliminating stockpiled sludge to improve water operation system efficiency.