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Planex receives Commonwealth Government Innovations Connection Grant

07 . 12 . 2020

Planex is pleased to announce it has been awarded a Commonwealth Government Innovations Connections grant, in collaboration with manufacturers AkzoNobel, Dulux Group and the Australian Institute of Surface Finishing (AISF). The combined funding valued at $98,583.00 will enable us to embark on a study of processing of waste powder-coat powder. We will explore how pyrolysis can be used to recover useful materials from it. The project is a lab-scale pilot study being conducted at Monash University’s Department of Chemical Engineering with Professor Sankar Bhattacharya (https://lens.monash.edu/@environment/2019/08/23/1351620/turning-plastic-into-fuel). The project will aim to identify further use of the products and their technical economics. Importantly, the project will provide proof of principle that pyrolysis is a viable solution to the problem of powder coat waste.

Background to the Project
Planex has continually sought to improve efficiencies in order to improve the company’s operational costs. The costs are not just dollars but include cost to the environment. Until now, Planex has concentrated on reducing its energy use, its greenhouse gas emissions, and the waste it generates. Now, Planex wants to eliminate its last unsolved waste stream, the waste powder that industry traditionally sends to landfill. Planex also sends its waste powder to landfill but only after solidifying it which is unusual for powder coaters to do. We do this at a notable expense so as to not dump microplastic particles into the environment. Last year saw us devising a way of using about two thirds of this waste to make new components, while also giving us an overall reduction in gas use and the need for several tonnes of new steel (https://www.planex.com.au/technical-briefs/download/technical-brief-005-improving-materials-efficiency-at-planex). However, we were not satisfied with the last one third remaining as a waste.

Planex could have continued to solidify the last one third and send that solid as a waste to the tip. But we think that even that is not satisfactory because while on the one hand, solidifying it saves sending microplastics to the tip, it still cost lots of gas oven time to turn it solid, so greenhouse gases are generated. We kept looking at the powder as a valuable resource that had to be used, rather than a waste product that had to be dealt with. 

Planex is now driving a new project to assess pyrolysis as a process for reclaiming resources from this waste. Pyrolysis, as a process with which to treat the waste, came to the attention of Planex during the counterweights project and interactions with a Melbourne-based company that brought the first pyrolytic plant to Australia to specifically deal with Australia’s plastic waste problem. The recent Innovations Connections grant awarded will enable the appropriate testing to be conducted prior to larger industry level engagement.

About powder coat waste powder
It is generally accepted that the powder does not degrade naturally, so it is assumed to accumulate wherever it is dumped and will last for centuries. (Gianello and Bhattacharya, 2020; https://www.sustainabilitymatters.net.au/content/waste/article/powder-coating-an-unacknowledged-waste-stream-1089554543). Current world-wide quantities of this waste are thought to be more than 800,000 tonnes annually. This is not just Planex’s problem but is a world-wide microplastics waste problem. The material consists essentially of microplastics and nanoplastics that contains polymers as well as valuable minerals (e.g., titanium); there are very few alternatives available to users and manufacturers for ridding the industry of this waste other than dumping it, mainly because of its complexity. Only a very small portion is re-used for powder coating. Being microplastics there is good reason to think that it will eventually leach into the environment (soils, waterways, oceans, foodchain).

To our knowledge, this is the first-ever work in Australia (and possibly elsewhere) on a problem identified by the industry and hence we are leading the work in collaboration with Monash.