Handling plastics in a sustainable way is one of the decisive factors for achieving the ambitious climate goals of the Paris Agreement. In Europe, heavy pressure is therefore being put on companies through EU legislation specifying a required percentage of recycled content in end products and rising waste recycling quotas. “This is pushing the European market tremendously, and in other markets, it is the simple need to do something useful with the huge quantities of waste. Mechanical plastic recycling is a good approach for this,” says Michal Prochazka, Managing Director at Keycycle, in his interview with WMW.
Recycling projects are complex, however, because they involve combining different technologies. “The challenge grows with the increasing quantities to be recycled and partially also with the composition of the material streams. We have to consider carefully how and what we can sort out of this material stream and where it makes economic sense to process a material stream all the way to the end-product stage,” Prochazka explains.
Moreover, material logistics and the management of interfaces pose a certain complexity in themselves. For instance, the three main process steps (sorting, washing, extrusion) require interface management between the individual process steps.
Keycycle delivers the process
Keycycle is not a conventional machine supplier – in fact, this subsidiary of Erema actually delivers the process. Fully understanding the process is also the central issue in the turnkey solutions being offered. “We can manage the interfaces between the machines, deliver complete factory plans to the customer and serve as project managers to carry out a project of this kind. On the investment side, the costs for these projects sometimes run into tens of millions of euros. We pride ourselves on our ability to manage such large projects and select the right technologies,” Prochazka says. Along with turnkey solutions, the company is also active in the deinking sector and is now launching a new technology on the market.
Greater focus on ink removal
Printing inks pose a major challenge in the recycling of plastics. Approaches to solving this problem vary. Reducing printing directly on the packaging film is a requirement for the “design for recycling” strategy, but it is often not possible to eliminate it completely in the many different fields of application for film products. Parallel work is therefore underway on deinking technologies. Keycycle is collaborating with the Spanish technology developer Cadel Deinking with the goal of removing printing inks during the recycling process. “In this project, we are shifting somewhat more towards mechanical engineering. As part of this collaboration, we have acquired to right to exclusively market this technology,” Prochazka notes. In the deinking process that has been developed, the ink is removed from the shredded film, which is then fed into the recycling extruder. In combination with the Intarema extruder from Erema, this process has proven effective in trial runs in the pilot plant, already resulting in orders for five deinking plants.
“It is a new process. We are the company on the market that is furthest along in developing this technology. That means, in turn, that we must first show the customers that the technology works and that it offers advantages to them and complies with the usual industrial standard,” Prochazka says. Keycycle sees this as a great opportunity since the technology adds a new facet to the issue of plastic recycling. Prochazka explains, “It was often difficult to recycle lightweight packaging with printing on it. Ink removal now opens up whole new avenues for customers. If ink can be removed from the surface first, a colourless or very lightcoloured regranulate can be recovered in the end, which can be utilised in the process in an entirely different way and can also fetch higher prices on the market.”
Time to get started
The parent company Erema has been a global market leader in its segment of machine manufacturing for 38 years. By contrast, the plant builder and developer Keycycle is only just starting out in carrying out projects as a general contractor. They largely pertain to the post-consumer sector. No specific names can be revealed at this time, but the clients are large corporations and manufacturers of branded products.
In 2020, a number of projects were put on hold due to COVID-19, but the company has been in the ascendant since the end of last year. Thus, ambitious plans have been forged for the next few years: “Over the next five years, we definitely want to be the leading plant builder in plastic recycling worldwide,” says Prochazka. “We want to become the largest supplier of total solutions. The Erema Group is growing steadily, and we believe plant construction and the ability to manage large and complex projects can be a drawing card for the entire Group.