A second life for discarded hard foam (Circular Foam)

How to recycle hard foam from freezers, refrigerators and buildings?

Project

From freezers to wall panels: polyurethane hard foam can be found in many products and objects. Though it is a valuable material, with excellent insulating properties, it often ends up in the incinerator or in landfills. In the Circular Foam project (2022-2026) the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences investigates the opportunities for developing a recycling process in an international consortium.

Polyurethane (PU) hard foam is often used as an insulation material in refrigerators and freezers. It is also common in the building industry, where it is applied for insulation and integrated into backings on laminate flooring, ceiling panels and wall panels. ‘Recycling of this material can be very valuable, both from a sustainablity and a financial perspective. It can reduce waste and decrease the need for petroleum-based primary goods in manufacturing,’ stresses David Lemiski, Senior Researcher at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. A typical refrigerator has approximately 8 euros of value in its PU hard foam insulation. In Europe alone, in 2019 approximately 30 million refrigerators and freezers were discarded. ‘However, a process dedicated to recycling PU hard foam does not exist,’ says Lemiski. The project Circular Foam is the first in the world to investigate how to develop such a recycling process.

Three regions in Europe

The research takes place in three regions across Europe: the Rhineland in Germany, Silesia in Poland, and the Amsterdam region. In each of these areas, the consortium will investigate current recycling practices as well as infrastructural, logistical and regulatory issues. For example, can the PU be recovered to the specifications required, stored and transported to a central location for recycling it back to the molecular level? In addition to technical aspects, the consortium will also consider social aspects: how does industry look at current recycling practices and how can it increase awareness in the industry of the importance of recycling PU hard foams?

Creating a circular process

Circular Foam will deliver a small-scale (but scalable) demonstration plant to prove that recycling can be done in an efficient, economical, and environmentally safe way, and that the end product can re-enter the process as new input. In other words, it will show that the loop can be closed to create a circular process. The project will create awareness, among governments and industry, of the importance of and the opportunities for recycling PU hard foam. It will also deliver insights that can be applied in other regions in Europe, opening the door to large-scale recycling programmes.

Education

Undergraduate students from the Faculty of Technology of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences specializing in Urban Studies and Logistics can do an internship or graduation project with one of the consortium partners. Best practices and insights from the project will be shared in lectures for minor students.

Partners

The Circular Foam consortium, initiated by PU hard foam producer Covestro , includes over 20 academic and research organizations, industry associations, and corporations, from four different countries. These include the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland. The Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences is responsible for the research in the Amsterdam region and will consult the local government to increase awareness and develop tailor-made solutions.

City Logistics and Circular Transition

Circular Foam is one of the projects within the lectureship of City Logistics and the theme of Circular Transition. City Logistics investigates how city centres and residential areas should respond to the growing volume of freight traffic: which opportunities exist for smart and clean city logistics? Research themes include the use of zero-emissions vehicles (including light electric vehicles), catering supplies, waste, construction logistics, service logistics and public procurement. This research group uses a practice-based approach to examine new revenue models, smart logistics concepts, innovative technology, city hubs and government policies.

Circular Transition focuses on technological solutions that contribute to a circular transition: circular design of packaging, products and buildings, advanced local production using robots, smart return logistics and entrepreneurship with waste streams in the new circular economy.

19 April 2022

Project Info

Start date 01 Feb 2022
End date 31 Jan 2026

Contact

David Lemiski