Experts from several research groups of CATRIN will be involved in projects of the National Centre of Competence (NCK) of Polymer Materials and Technologies for the 21st Century (POLY-ENVI21), which was successful in the competition of the Czech Technology Agency and will bring together research teams from nine research institutions and 16 companies under the leadership of Tomas Bata University in Zlín. Scientists from Olomouc will focus, for example, on the development of additives for polymers or the preparation of technologies for the elimination of microplastics in wastewater.
“The project is largely focused on circular economy and recycling of plastic waste, as well as on improving the properties of plastics. We will build on our previous experience from the former Centre of Competence ALTERBIO and partly on the environmental research carried out within the project NANOBIOWAT. However, some areas will be relatively new to us,” said Jan Filip from CATRIN.
One of the tasks will be designing of methods for the detection and elimination microplastics in wastewater. “First, we need to develop and optimise a method for detection microplastics in order to identify and quantify particular microplastics in wastewaters, and based on this input information we can contribute to the development of technology for their removal. For this task, we will use our microscopy techniques, dynamic light scattering and possibly other separation techniques,” explained Filip. Another challenge addressed in this project will be the labelling of plastics using nanostructures, which may also contribute to easier separation of plastic waste, for example.
Among the academic partners, scientists from CATRIN will collaborate in particular with VSB – Technical University of Ostrava or Tomas Bata University in Zlín. As the NCK is divided into separate subprojects, which are gradually being defined, cooperation will also be established with other consortium members.
“We plan to expand our cooperation with the Centre for Organic Chemistry in Pardubice, and we have started cooperation with ASIO in the field of detection and elimination of microplastics. Among the commercial partners, we are currently cooperating also with Hella Autotechnik Nova on the development of thermosetting compounds,” added Filip.
The researchers also collaborate with colleagues from VŠB-TUO on the development of thermosetting compounds. The aim is to minimise the effect of evaporation of unreacted additives and thus completely avoid the coating process widely used in the automotive industry, which is a major environmental burden. “We aim to find the relationships between the behaviour of additives in the mixture and the resulting material properties in order to perfectly utilise the individual components in the thermosetting mixture during the injection moulding process,” said Aleš Slíva from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at VŠB-TUO.
The NCK project includes a wide range of research tasks that are likely to be transferred into practice in the near future. For example, increasing the efficiency and automation of the sorting process for plastics recycling, finding new ways to efficiently extract economically valuable substances from plastic waste, or developing new polymers ranging from polyfunctional materials to special materials for e.g. medicine.
The project follows the strategies of the Czech Republic (Circular Czech Republic 2040 Strategy) and the EU (Green Deal, circular economy, raw material independence). The research activities are divided into four main areas, which are Advanced Materials, Environmental Process Engineering, Consumption in a Circular Environment and last but not least Communication, Dissemination and Creativity. The interconnection of companies and research institutes mainly targets the chemical, automotive and textile industries, but also the civil engineering sector. The total cost of the research consortium is almost CZK 380 million, a quarter of which will be covered by the corporate sector.