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Environmental Harmony at Planex

27 . 04 . 2021

Planex assists in proof-of-concept trials in the making of Green Ceramics™ at UNSW SMaRT Centre.
 

The Green Ceramics™ innovation led by Professor Veena Sahajwalla at the UNSW Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT) Centre, is set to revolutionise the building industry by making novel materials from common industrial waste streams. In early 2019 Planex asked Professor Sahajwalla if powder coating waste from Planex could be used as an ingredient in any new materials under development in her labs. The answer was yes!

Preliminary tests in the SMaRT labs showed that waste powder has physical and chemical properties that make it a very compatible ingredient for Green Ceramics™.

Waste powder is a global problem in the powder coat industry with an estimated 800,000 tonnes annually discarded to landfill. It is by nature a very difficult material to reuse because of its unusual properties (e.g., they are usually blends of different colours, have minor contaminants, different polymer chemistries). For several years Planex has been determined to find a good use for waste powder. In 2018 a grant from Sustainability Victoria led to the development of Planex’s “in-house” counterweights that are now used in a range of storage systems, replacing the need for the previously used all-new steel weights. Making these weights now accounts for most of Planex’s waste powder diverting about 2/3 (several tonnes) from landfill, while also saving the use of prime steel. Making furniture components like counterweights from waste material is effective for Planex meeting its objective of a circular economy. 

Planex was also keen to find a solution for the remaining 1/3 of the powder and with Monash University and Commercial partners, initiated research into pyrolysis as a potential way of recovering the valuable re-usable resources from it. Given the amount of waste produced annually, pyrolysis at scale is an innovative solution that holds promise as a means for diverting much of this waste material from landfill. 

Working with Professor Sahajwalla and the SMaRT team in their labs onsite MICROfactorie™ opened up another opportunity for the industry to address the waste powder currently going to landfill and brings us another step closer to a circular economy.

For Planex, SMaRT’s proof-of-concept test results showing that waste powder can be an ingredient in making building materials is very exciting and Planex is keen to use the Green Ceramics™ in surfaces such as tops and shelves in new products. Early samples have shown fantastic patterns rivalling the beauty of natural stone and marble.

The ultimate goal of a circular economy is to cleverly re-use and not discard unwanted materials to make useful things. Waste powder coat material from a metal cabinet manufacturing plant becoming an ingredient in Green Ceramics™ for use by the same metal cabinet manufacturing plant is a strong circular achievement. This feat of integrating a problematic waste into an original new product is in total harmony with Planex’s mantra of doing no harm.