Life Long Project


The project objectives are the reduction of waste, moderate the use of chemicals and to contain CO2 emissions using an innovative method of minimal tolerance dehumidification (-5%) during PVC production. lifelongpage The current dehumidification methodology of PVC both during the process of compounding and of extrusion is inadequate.
The residual moisture during the PVC preparation and production phases creates phenomena of hydrolytic degradation catalysed by the thermo-mechanical forces, manifested through the presence of imperfections (double bonds, carbonyl and hydroperoxide groups) and formation of sequences of conjugated double bonds. During the extrusion phase, then, the material to be treated absorbs further moisture, which can result in further processing waste, machine downtime and extraordinary maintenance.
A remedy lies in the use of stabilising and plastifying chemicals in over quantity (+ 30%) compared to the normalised situation, i.e. without moisture during the cycle. During this phase, the production of the granule can be partially compromised with waste formation (15% of overtreated products). Moreover, in the presence of moisture, even if very slight, the effects of degradation are still present, causing additional waste that, in the case of material intended for biomedical use, can reach a further 10%.
The introduction of an innovative way to measure in real time moisture content of the materials, and to tailor the demoisturizing treatment from case to case would represent an enormous benefit, able to completely nullify the need for overtreatment and the related problems.
There are numerous results expected that relate energy saving, smart use of raw materials, minimisation of the production of waste, even if recyclable, reduced use of chemicals and optimisation of the production cycle: - Lower CO2 emissions: The new system, immediately adjusting the moisture contained in the material, will be able to save the thermal energy necessary for dehumidification aiming for cost savings of 50% of emissions in CO2 equivalent to 280 ton/year. - Removal of production waste: The incorrect and inefficient dehumidification cause irreversible damage to raw materials and to semi-finished and finished products, creating inefficiencies and production of waste (285 ton/year), which, during recycling, consumes energy creating intolerant CO2 emissions (ab. 116 ton/year). - Savings and recoveries of raw material: The redesigned production cycle will enable precise shimming of the film with micrometric tolerance, reducing the use of raw materials. Moisture control will remove the risk of transforming material that is unsuitable, recovering it intact before transformation. The full recovery of the waste materials, perfectly compatible with the virgin material, will also save raw materials and CO2 emission (97 Ton/year). - Less use and waste of additives: The additives (plasticisers, flame retardant, catalysts in general) are the first to be volatilized during drying in case of over dehumidification and this requires a superabundant use. A balanced moisture of the materials will permit to use the amount strictly necessary, allowing an average percentage of reduction of 30%. - Constant control and optimal management of the quality of the products: The constant moisture and thermal control of the material will enable prior definition of the fundamental process parameters, offering protection on weather situations (temperature and external humidity changes).
The environmental problem addressed is the presence of moisture in recycled polymers and technopolymers, which has detrimental effects on their processability and is responsible for the need of multiple treatments and of the generation of waste or, viceversa, for the need of using plastifying additives to try to recover part of its properties. The dimension of the environmental problem is huge and growing, as it is huge current market and use of plastics and considering that when recycling the polymer, prior to reprocessing, it is mandatory to reduce the water content below 100 ppm, if not the reprocessed materials will be stained by milky areas, spoiled by bubbles, and will present much lower mechanical properties and durability: it would remain waste. For this reason, during last decades, more and more advanced de-moisturizing systems have been used, using hot air, electromagnetic fields, vacuum, but all characterized by an extremely low energy efficiency and by the generation of overtreated products, with detrimental effects on some portion of the recycled materials or granules which are directly exposed to the more intense heat or electromagnetic field action. The overtreated materials present reprocessability problems, in particular regarding viscosity loss and yellowing, which force the manufacturers to add plastifying agents to compensate for this which are one of the major source of pollution for polymers. Moreover, this recovery of overtreated materials implies that new materials and more energy is used in their reprocessing. The introduction of an innovative way to measure in real time moisture content of the materials and to tailor the demoisturizing treatment from case to case, avoiding the use of rough processing parameters during de-moisturizing, would represent an enormous benefit, able to completely nullify the need for overtreatment and the related problems.
The state of the art regarding de-moisturizing systems for recycling polymeric materials and recycled granules involves the use of heat, electromagnetic fields or vacuum to ensure a rapid and complete removal (down to 100 ppm) of water.
  • hot air is the most used energy vector to provide the latent heat needed to evaporate water;
  • electromagnetic field use infrared or microwaves to generate heat mainly on the surface (infrared) or in the water contained (microwaves);
  • vacuum systems use the fact that lowering the pressure the evaporation occurs at lower temperatures, with possible reduction of degradation problems.
Each one of these techniques presents some disadvantages, due to the way energy is applied:
  • hot air systems are generally not efficient and require a proper exposition of the material to the hot air flux, with also possible thermal damage to the material;
  • infrared drying is a line of sight process, hence only very thin layers of material (or water) can be heated and such surface must be exposed to the IR emitters, again with the risk of locally overheating the material; microwave systems can be self-regulating, but they lack homogeneity end are prone to thermal runaway phenomena, which locally overheat or even melt and burn the material;
  • vacuum systems present the minimum thermal damage, but they are usually discontinuous and slow, requiring the highest energy consumption.
Moreover, all the aforementioned techniques share a common problem, i.e. the way the moisture level is measured and systems controlled. The universally used method relies on moisture sensors (dew point meters) which analyze the water content of a fluid (air) in equilibrium with the material. This requires that a proper diffusion is achieved with a delay up to 30 minutes from the variation and its measurement (slow response) and it is an average measurement and does not account for local variations of moisture content. The consequence is that the aforementioned de-moisturizing systems are designed to overtreat the materials, supplying more energy than strictly required, in order to ensure that no part of the load has a moisture in excess of 100ppm, with energy waste, but also processed material degradation, with generation of up to 15% waste which bust be regenerated in dedicated equipment or used for energy recovery by combustion.
In order to achieve the objectives of the project, to face the environmental problem and improve the state of the art, the following actions are required:
    1. Study and design of the transit body of the raw material, with positioning of the respective sensors;
    2. Study, design and construction of a humidity sensor for the product, operating at ambient temperature (input) and at high temperature (output) and relative calibration with known loads;
    3. Study and design of a software to manage the parameters with static memory for the standard pre-settings;
    4. Construction and assembly of the components designed and production of a functional demo prototype;
    5. Functionality tests of the recording sensors for varying the flow of material;
    6. Definition of a standard work cycle (a cycle for each type of raw material used)
    7. Analysis of the faults encountered and changes to the original plans and prototypal components;
    8. Mass and energy balance of the new dehumidifier, to be compared with current similar systems.
The project achievements will be disseminated to stakeholders or potentially interested parties, both institutional and private by mean of some specifically created tools:
  • a section on the company's website dedicated to the project, regularly updated, with downloadable tools;
  • updating of the business letterhead with inclusion of the LIFE+ logo;
  • the creation of notice boards with a brief description of the objectives of the project and the LIFE logo;
  • creation of information material (brochures, flyers) to be distributed at every opportunity and on request;
longlife1Roll Up  longlife2Board
  • creation of information material (brochures, flyers) to be distributed at every opportunity and on request;
longlife3
  • participation at key world trade fairs of the sector;
longlife4
  • publication of an article in a specialist sector magazine;
  • preparation of a layman's report, including photographic material and summary of objectives and goals;
  • production of an audiovisual material showing the operation of the pilot plant;
  • organization of a final promotional event, to be held during the last month of the project.
The programme will have an interconnected structure, replicating the steps necessary to arrive to a completely functioning production line for biomedical bags and a production line to industrially post process (filling, sealing, sterilizing, packaging) the new bags. For this reason, the programme activity has been divided into subsequent workpackages which separately follow the flow of the product during manufacturing. Each workpackage will be dedicated to the realization of one component or sub-system of the final plants, which then will be assembled and tested at each proposers' site. The programme will start by realizing, at Meditalia site, the required polyolefin blends and dedicated blending system (WP2). The project will continue with the modification of the Meditalia's bubble extrusion equipment (WP3) to account for the different properties of the starting material. The obtainment of the first films will serve to continue the ageing tests on this new materials, at Farmasol's site, providing feedback to Meditalia to improve or alter the original blends. On the optimized blend, already blow moulded in coupled films, cutting and joining operations will be performed by a modified equipment (WP4), according to the new materials thermal properties and allowing to achieve the first testing pre-series of PVC-free bags manufactured at Meditalia's site. Such bags will be used in a dedicated modified filling line at Farmasol plants, in order to verify the correctness of the dimensioning of the tools and to further optimise filling and sealing operations on the new materials. The output will be PVC-free bags filled with saline solution (WP6), which will be artificially contaminated to study and optimize the industrial sterilization (WP7) of the new bags, at Farmasol's site. Meanwhile, at Meditalia's site, the cleaning and packaging operations will be implemented on the manufacturing line (WP5), leading to the first commercial-like series of the new polyolefinic bags. On the finished product, recycling tests by moth remelting and combustion will be performed, and used, with a life cycle approach, to evaluate the environmental performance of the new bags (WP8). An LCA study by the mean of apposite software and suitable database internationally recognized will be performed, taking into account also the transportation and other possible environmental burdens. The main environmental indicators will be calculated. The packaged bags, manufactured by Meditalia, will be used by Farmasol to start the production of commercial-like saline solution bags and emoderivatives bags, comprehensive of the new label indicating the eco-friendliness of the new product. The project will be completed by the institutional WP as Management (WP1), Business Plan and Exploitation (WP9), Dissemination Activities (WP10).
The activities of the project focused soon on one of the most delicate phase of the project concerning the sensor use to measure the material moisture.
By setting up partnerships with the University of Modena, first, and with the company Pertec S.r.l., afterwards, we were able to overcome the initial uncertainties linked to the development of the microwave sensor network for accurate measurement of the mixture?s moisture content, which is crucial for the project?s success. The sensors have been dimensioned, designed and realized taking into consideration the possible materials to treat and the various plant to be update with. No particular concerns and difficulties emerged from this phase. long1 Something more had to be faced for the implementation of the sensors on the plant, since the position of both the sensors, input and output material moisture measuring, needed more attention than expected.
For the proponent, the line starts with a turbo mixer inside which the raw materials are blended for the production of the granule of desired polymer (virgin polymer powder, plasticisers, additives etc.). A rotary motion is then imparted to a mixer positioned inside it and a certain temperature is applied. Once the turbo mixer processing stage is complete, the dry blend is conveyed to a collection system and then to the extruder. We abandoned the initial idea of measuring during conveyance as there would be no guarantees that the data would be measured constantly and correctly.
The sensor had been initially installed near the area where the metal mixing blades move and this caused interference and distortions in the signal, resulting in errors in the measurements. We decided so to reposition the sensors, establishing that it would be useful to install one inside the turbo mixer in order to monitor the moisture content during the mixing of the raw materials and, possibly, also changing the processing parameters immediately in order to correct any anomalies. The other sensor, meanwhile, will measure the dry blend within the temporary storage unit, before it is conveyed towards the extruder where the polymer granules are produced to check the output features. long2 Thanks to the engineers in the inhouse workshop (who are capable of modifying and improving the mechanics of any of the company?s plants and systems), we have also modified certain pipelines so that they can convey materials from the raw material storage units to the turbo mixer and from the turbo mixer to the dry blend storage unit; this will guarantee that no moisture seeps into the system, at least during conveyance from one plant to the next.
We have agreed with the company handling the system software programming part on the changes to be made in order to receive data from the sensors, to process it, and then apply it to the editing of certain process parameters (which will be identified during the testing).
The proponent participates in a joint networking activity with other LIFE beneficiaries through the involvement that came from the ceramic sector for the creation of a Facebook page called "Think eco live green", which collects photos and summaries of projects carried out by numerous Italian beneficiaries of the LIFE program in recent years: Here can be downloaded the Brochure and the Boards realized for the project
For more information on the LIFE program, see http://ec.europa.eu/environment/life/index.htm
For contacts: g.mazzaro@meditaliasrl.com
life europa