Plastics Recycling Update

French company aims to build a polymer from old airbags

Construction has started on a facility to recycle vehicle airbag scrap into a high-quality polyamide 6.6, according to international chemical company Solvay.

Lyon, France-based Solvay has begun construction of the facility in Gorzow, Poland. The effort is part of the company’s Move4earth project, which received funding from the European Commission (EC).

More than 70 percent of automotive airbags in Europe are made of silicone-coated nylon fabrics, particularly polyamide (PA), according to a press release from Solvay. A European Union directive set high targets for end-of-life recycling and reuse of vehicle materials, but no sustainable solution is yet in place for post-consumer airbags, Richard Bourdon, Move4earth project director, stated in the press release.

In Europe, the airbag industry generates nearly 10,000 tons per year of waste airbag material. Because of high recycling costs, it is either dumped in Europe or shipped to developing countries, where cheap labor performs the recovery without environmental considerations and in a non-sustainable way, according to the EC project page.

Solvay developed a proprietary recycling technology for separating the airbag fabrics from the silicone coating, which can amount to 15 percent of the material, according to the company.

“The innovative process delivers a PA 6.6 premium recycle with no significant loss in material properties, including stable viscosity and robust mechanical performance,” according to the company.

The new facility, which is expected to be operational in 2016, will recycle up to 1,400 pounds of airbag scrap per hour, according to the EC project page. It will also explore possible applications for the recycled silicone coating, and it will test the recycling technology on other types of technical textiles.

The EU provided a U.S. dollar equivalent of $4.6 million to the project, or about one-third of the project budget.

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