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New Lease of Life for Plastic Bottles
August 1, 2013   
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Researchers at the Cracow University of Technology in southern Poland have won praise and a shower of awards for their innovative technology designed to process plastic bottles into quality construction material.

The Cracow University of Technology says its method for recycling bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a world first.

The method is both simple, straightforward and requires little investment—mainly because it does not involve the time-consuming and costly process of sorting bottles from other plastics, removing their labels and caps, and washing them. Once the bottles have been ground into small flakes, they can be bound together using a special binding agent. The mix obtained in this way is subsequently pressed into steel or wooden molds to produce rectangular boards.

The construction material developed by the researchers is resistant to mechanical, biological and chemical corrosion. It is therefore suitable for insulating foundations and a building’s walls, the researchers say. It can be plastered and painted on.

The idea for the technology came from Jerzy Polaczek, Ph.D., from the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Technology at the Cracow University of Technology. By compressing the PET boards, the researchers have obtained a material with a porous structure and low density that can substitute for styrofoam and bubble foil. At the same time, the boards are durable and water-permeable, which makes them a good choice to build environmentally-friendly parking lots and to stabilize soil at road embankments and sidewalks as well as landfills, according to the researchers.

The PET boards are lightweight—a board one square meter in size can be easily lifted with one hand, even by a frail woman, the researchers say.

A board half a square meter in size takes several hundred shredded bottles to be produced. It costs under zl.30.

The PET boards have been named the best material for draining subterranean water around building foundations, and they have also won a certificate from the Polish Building Research Institute attesting to their resistance to severe subzero temperatures and high compression forces.

To launch production of their PET boards, the researchers have teamed up with Cracow company Promos. Even though the technology was singled out for praise in the Małopolska Innovator regional innovation competition last year, the partners are having problems reaching potential users—chiefly builders and architects. Meanwhile, their innovative technology has attracted the interest of businesses in Japan, Argentina, Greece, Italy and Russia after winning awards at international trade fairs in cities such as Brussels, Geneva, Nuremberg and Moscow.

A number of foreign companies have expressed an interest in buying a license for the method, but the Cracow researchers say this is out of the question. “This is a Polish idea from start to finish, and we want our boards to be manufactured in Poland and sold worldwide as a product made in Poland,” says Polaczek.

Teresa Bętkowska
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