The Plazit-Polygal Group is spread worldwide and has numerous production sites across different continents. Each site is characterized by a singular specialization. Among all of the company’s sites, the proud standard-bearer for sustainability is undoubtedly the one in Bulgaria. Why is it so special? Because, in addition to eight major production lines, the plant also boasts advanced compounding capabilities and a chemical plant that is able to polymerize PMMA from its building blocks.
The Basics of Polymerization Process
The origin of the word polymer is the Greek: “Poly”- many + “Mer” – unit. Indeed, the structure of all polymers comprises chains of many repetitive units – the monomers. The building block for our PMMA Acrylic Sheets is the monomer MMA. In the polymerization process, the MMA is placed in two large reactors and polymerized under the required pressure and temperature conditions until it becomes PMMA. The end result is in the form of transparent granules, which we use for producing transparent sheets through extrusion.
Cast Acrylic – Polymerization in Molds Rather Than Reactors
The process of producing PMMA Sheets, other than extrusion, is done by adding initiators and other additives to the monomer MMA and casting it into a mold that is made of two glass sheets, between which the polymerization process is carried out. The end result is a thick sheet with superior optical properties and exceptionally high transparency. Other advantages of sheets that are produced in this method are better thermal resistance, higher scratch resistance, and ease of secondary processing.
The Challenge in Recycling Cast Acrylic Sheets
Nevertheless, there is a downside. The end-result sheets have many advantages, but if we want to recycle, we face a challenge. Many of the factories producing Cast Acrylic sheets do not have the capabilities or technological know-how for recycling them. When it comes to extruded PMMA sheets, recycling is mechanical and much simpler. It is done by grinding the waste and placing it back into the extruder for smelting.
Plazit-Polygal is Developing a Unique Chemical Recycling Process
This is the exact point where Plazit-Polygal Bulgaria’s chemical polymerization capabilities are demonstrated. Through a process called Thermal Destruction, the Cast sheets can be de-polymerized and turned back into their building blocks and become recycled MMA, from which, 100% recycled PMMA can be reproduced. Bear in mind that this capability is not common among sheet manufacturers around the world as it is mostly reserved for raw material manufacturers. We, at Plazit-Polygal, are pleased to promote this development which is a step forward for recycling and circular economy. We are glad to be able to make it happen thanks to the diversity of technologies we master in our company.
A Pilot Plant for Industrial Chemical Recycling Already in Planning Stage.
The staff at Plazit-Polygal Bulgaria is currently busy, working on all the facets of developing this project. On the technological level, collaboration agreements have been signed with another company, and within about eighteen months, we expect to co-establish a pilot plant with them. The facility, about 300 sq. m, will industrially manufacture recycled source Cast Acrylic sheets. The company will guide our technical team through the process and provide knowledge, equipment, process characterization, documentation, as well as training the teams, obtaining product approval, and configuring the critical final criteria for the product. Another crucial facet is that of regulatory aspects. In this aspect, the work plan for obtaining the required permits from European authorities is being characterized in accordance with all necessary permits for the chemical recycling process.
A Green and Challenging Future
In the absence of recycling solutions for Cast Acrylic waste, many manufacturers all over the world currently bear high costs for the proper disposal of their wastes. In the past, it was possible to sell the waste to China and India for a low price, but this is no longer possible, as these countries do not allow this anymore. Currently, the discarding process became more expensive and challenging.
This new and cutting-edge capability for recycling CAST wastes internally enhances the group’s contributes to its strategic value. It positions Plazit-Polygal at the forefront of technology, alongside very few companies in the global arena.