We are pleased to announce that, in line with advice from the UK Government, research activity in PPRC Laboratories has resumed. Whilst we are as yet unable to host visitors or travel to attend physical meetings, we are able to accept delivery of materials and samples for processing and characterisation and are available to participate in online meetings. For enquires regarding our service offerings, please get in touch by email with one of our Managers whose contact details may be found here.
RPM - Responsible Plastic Management has teamed up with the PPRC in Queen’s University Belfast to create a strategic link between research and organizations engaged in the Responsible Plastic Management Program.
Established in 1996, PPRC is a world renowned centre of excellence in polymer research and development. Research staff in the centre work side by side with industrial and academic partners from across the world. The partnership will support an array of polymer applications including; identification of new technologies, improving recycling rates, novel polymer design, exploring the functionality and applications for recyclates.
RPM engages organizations of all sizes and from all sectors. This diverse set of businesses have one thing in common – to make a positive change in the way plastic is managed. Finding solutions for the reduction, re-use and recycling of plastic will require innovation in design, polymer material research and piloting new processes that can ensure solutions are fit for purpose.
RPM is delighted to have the PPRC as a support partner and looks forward to working together on exciting projects.
PPRC was pleased to host a workshop on “Advances in Materials Characterisation using Atomic Force Microscopy and Electron Microscopy” for Oxford Instruments along with our colleagues in School of Maths and Physics. We welcomed 50 colleagues from across QUB and Ulster University to the event and heard some very interesting talks on new developments in material characterisation from Oxford Instruments and the journey of some of our academic colleagues took through material characterisation in their own careers to date.
The attendees were able to attend demonstration workshops on our recently installed Cypher VSR AFM, and the Centre for Nanostructured Media’s SEM with Symmetry EBSD and X-Max EDS from the Oxford Instruments experts and get some invaluable insight in to how to approach analysing their materials.
PPRC, along with some colleagues from SMAE working on Polymer Circularity Projects, visited Natural World Products on the outskirts of Belfast. NWP operate a series of In Vessel Composters and Aerated Static Composters between this site and in Keady, Co Armagh producing in the region of 200kT of high quality organic compost from organic waste, including the compostable polymer caddy bin liners we recycle our domestic food waste in.
After seeing around the process at NWP, we were all very keen to discuss the current upsurge in compostable polymers usage in the “on the go” food and beverage sector, the end of life disposal routes currently in place and how these polymers could be handled in a facility such as this.
PPRC was pleased to host Dr Martini Muhammed from Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin in Malaysia this summer as a visiting Academic. Martini spent a few months with us evaluating the potential of biomass waste from Malaysia as high-value reinforcing fibre in thermoplastic polymers, particularly in polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) and polypropylene (PE) for automotive applications. The focus of her project was to incorporate natural fibres into thermoplastic polymers using conventional melt processing techniques and then to assess this natural fibre composite in additive manufacturing processes.
Martini had been a PhD student of Professor Peter Hornsby in SMAE in 2013 where she studied cellulose nanofibre reinforced polymers before joining Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin as a Lecturer in the Faculty of Innovative Design and Technology.
Today the world produces over 300 million tonnes of plastics every year, which is almost equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Much of this is single-use and not designed to be recycled, which creates a mountain of waste that enters the natural environment such as plastic pollution in the oceans.
However, researchers at the Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC) at Queen’s University are pioneering innovative manufacturing techniques to turn waste plastic into a wide variety of useful products.
Their ground-breaking approach involves a manufacturing process called rotational moulding, which has the potential to economically recycle very large volumes of plastic waste into a wide variety of innovative products such as urban street furniture, storage tanks and marine buoys.
The project is funded by Innovate UK through its “Plastics Innovation: Towards Zero Waste” Programme and the researchers are working in collaboration with three industrial partners; Impact Laboratories Ltd in Scotland, Impact Recycling Ltd in England and Harlequin Plastics Ltd in Northern Ireland.
Dr Peter Martin, from the School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Queen’s, explains: “The Polymer Centre at Queen’s University Belfast has been leading the way in plastics recycling for over 30 years and our engineers are working on novel techniques that could really help to tackle the huge global issue of single-use waste plastics”.
“The process starts with flakes of waste plastics being separated and compounded into pellets using the patented technologies of Impact Laboratories and Impact Recycling.
“At Queen’s we take these pellets and grind them into a fine powder, which is then blended with a proportion of new plastic (polyethylene), heated to over 200ºC and then cooled within a mould to transform it into the shape of a new product.”
Dr Martin adds: “Our research involves testing to find the optimum combination of blending the plastics and processing conditions so that eventually Harlequin Manufacturing will be able to introduce a range of new rotomoulded products made largely from post-consumer waste.
“It is expected that in one product of this kind waste plastic could replace around 30 per cent of the new plastic required and use the equivalent of 1,000 old milk bottles in its manufacture.”
At present, the UK rotational moulding industry alone consumes more than 38,000 tonnes of new plastic, of which more than 11,000 tonnes could be saved.
Mark Kearns, Moulding Research Manager at PPRC at Queen’s, added: “The rotational moulding process is unique in comparison to other plastic forming methods since it is used to manufacture large products that typically use very large volumes of plastics.
“This new process will therefore have significant environmental benefits. The ability to condense and transform large volumes of recycled plastics into products designed to last many years will result in a substantial reduction in the amount of post-consumer waste going to landfill, rivers and the ocean.
“It will also help to reduce the quantity of pure polyethylene used in the process, ushering in a new and more sustainable era in the production of rotationally moulded plastics.”
Rotocycle is a £500,000 project funded by Innovate UK, which began in January 2019 and will last for two years.
Nick Cliffe, Interim Deputy Challenge Director of Smart Sustainable Plastic Packaging, at UK Research and Innovation, said: “Plastics have transformed modern world in many positive ways. Yet today we are increasingly conscious of the devastating damage plastic waste can inflict on our planet and the wellbeing of people and wildlife.
“The Plastics Research and Innovation Fund will help help address these vital issue and projects such as Rotocycle will play a key role in this global effort.”
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Using plastic collected during the Litter Pick at Tyrella Beach in June, PPRC ran a workshop in July to demonstrate the ease with which waste plastic may be reshaped and recycled. Once washed and chopped, a compression moulding process was used to produce a simple hexagonal coaster from different discarded polymer products such as bottles, fishing nets and rope.
Workshop participants included Dr Ahmed Osman, Research Fellow at School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, who is working on the EPSRC ACCEPT project. Commenting afterwards, Dr Osman remarked how the workshop has inspired him to try different ideas, especially the recycling of the fishing net.
PPRC continues to stay up to date with recent developments in recycling technologies. We recently underwent training on the "Recycling of Plastics and Managing their Environmental Impact" with Martin Forrest of Smithers Rapra and were very pleased to invite along some of the companies and agencies who are working with PPRC on recycling themed projects to join us.
Partaking in the course alongside PPRC staff were Colin Breen (DAERA), Martin Doherty (Belfast City Council), Dr Fergal Gribben (Harlequin Manufacturing), Pooja Mandal (Condron Concrete), Gillian Shields (Coca Cola Hellenic) and Dr Eoin Cunningham (School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering).
PPRC was delighted to welcome pupils from Rosetta Primary School during a recent visit to the University to learn about plastics. In the course of the visit, they toured the Centre’s processing laboratories and witnessed the methods by which everyday items are made manufactured from polymers and the ease with which waste materials can be recycled.
PPRC is pleased to be engaged in a series of activities to raise awareness of the positive contribution plastics make to everyday life and provide understanding to support better-informed decision making around their use, reuse, recycling and disposal. Beginning with a seminar on Thursday 13th June at which staff and students from across the University heard from a number of speakers including Eric Randall, Director of Bryson Recycling, who spoke on loss of economic opportunities through irresponsible disposal of plastic, Philip McMurray from the Single Use Plastic, Waste Prevention & Recycling Policy Team in DAERA who covered policies to the address the issue of single use plastics and Claire Hudson who shared insight into the work of Keep NI Beautiful in fulfilling its vision for a cleaner, greener and more sustainable Northern Ireland. Peter Martin and Bronagh Millar from PPRC spoke on the positive aspects of plastics and the role of bioplastics in reducing dependency on fossil fuels respectively. Following the seminar, tours of PPRC laboratories were given and the visitors witnessed the various processes by which everyday items are manufactured and the ease with which plastics can be reshaped and recycled.
On Wednesday 26th June a Litter Pick was undertaken on gloriously sunny Tyrella Beach. The waste collected was segregated on site and the plastic brought back to the PPRC in preparation for a Recycling Workshop to be undertaken on 10th July in the course of which, participants will make a coaster from waste plastic.
PPRC recently underwent training on the "Mechanical Testing of Composites" with Dr Geraint Havard of R-Tech Materials using a selection of the test machines here in the Ashby Building. This course builds the current expertise in polymer and product mechanical testing the characterisation team have developed in house, now adding a range of standard composite mechanical tests to our capabilities.
Pierre Dogliani, Research & Development Chemist
PPRC and Eva-Tec have begun a fusion partnership with the Balbriggan based company Eva-Tec. Eva-Tec is the largest supplier of industrial adhesives to the paper and board, graphic arts, and beverage industry in Ireland, supplying many of Ireland’s blue chip companies. Established in 2001, the company develops, produces and offers a complete range of high-end sustainable glues, allowing its customers to improve production speed and work quality while reducing their environmental impact.
This 18 month Fusion Project go deeper on the subject of sustainability, with the aim of developing a new sustainable water-based adhesive fit for purpose with a minimum of 20% biopolymer.
A group of students from Northern Regional College visited PPRC today along with their lecturer; Paul McCavana. The students used the Centre’s testing equipment to complete an assignment on mechanical testing as part of their 2nd year of an extended Diploma in Engineering. They also had a tour of the injection moulding facilities that had been used to manufacture their samples.
Three members of staff from the PPRC attended the 14th edition of Identiplast, Europe’s leading conference focused on the recycling and recovery of used plastics. The event in London (which was attend by over 340 attendees) featured talks from over 50 world-leading speakers in plastics recycling and waste management. As well as networking events and meetings with global industrialists and academics on plastics recycling, the PPRC were able to discuss and promote their ongoing EPSRC and Innovate UK recycling projects, click for further information on the event.
KTP Associate Karem Akoul
The PPRC have begun a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with CP Cases based in London. CP Cases is a vibrant, fast growing company that design and manufacture high-performance protective cases for the storage and transport of high-value equipment for the media/entertainment and commercial industry. CP Cases have over 45 years’ experience in the design and production of cases and containers in plastics, welded aluminium, specialist rugged textiles and foam engineering. Through this 2 and a half year Knowledge Transfer Partnership, the project will involve the embedding of advanced ‘Industry 4.0’ manufacturing technologies to provide a step change in production efficiency. For further information on KTP opportunities with PPRC please contact us via Email.
Over 7.5 billion tonnes of plastic has never been recycled, which, if measured in plastic bottles, would be enough to cover the whole of Northern Ireland to a depth of 40 meters.
The project, Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions (ACCEPT Transitions), will address this problem. It is being led by Professor David Rooney, Director of the Research Centre in Sustainable Energy at Queen’s. Professor Rooney has an 11 strong team of academics from right across the University, with expertise in areas including politics, engineering, psychology and architecture.
The aim of the project is to tackle plastic waste problems by creating a sustainable plastics circular economy in the UK. This would be an economy that keeps resources, including “waste”, in use for as long as possible. Work is due to begin in early 2019.
The project will do this by taking on three elements. Firstly, understanding consumer behaviour and attitudes towards plastic use and plastic waste; secondly, assessing the current industry supply chain so that hotspots can be identified and managed; and thirdly, working with industry to design and prototype building products that use significant quantities of recycled plastic waste.
Professor David Rooney, from the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at Queen’s is project lead. He said: “The world-leading, state of the art facilities at Queen’s make the University the ideal place to carry out this project. These facilities include the Polymer Processing Research Centre (PPRC), a market driven research centre which has been collaborating with industry since 1996.
“The outcome of the research carried out here at Queen’s is to create a sustainable and resilient plastics circular economy that will change how we deal with plastic waste, with the ultimate goal of creating a sustainable environment for future generations.”
Queen’s is one of only eight universities that has been awarded a share of the £8 million grant by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to work on projects that will re-think plastics production and use.
The announcement was made by the Science Minister, Chris Skidmore on the same day that the government unveiled its Resources and Waste Strategy. The Strategy puts the legal onus on producers of damaging waste, introduces a consistent set of recyclable materials collected from all households and businesses, and introduces a deposit return scheme, subject to consultation, to increase the recycling of single-use drinks containers.