Good pre-sorting of waste, especially plastic waste, has great potential to subsequently produce more and purer recyclates and thus increase the recycling rate.
Now ZEISS and POLYSECURE are jointly embarking on a new path to the circular economy and a new approach to resource efficiency, both of which are issues of enormous industrial policy importance for Europe. The new detector technology will be designed for numerous waste streams including plastic packaging, textiles, shredded vehicles, white goods, electrical products and production waste from the plastics industry.
POLYSECURE, as a pioneer of Tracer-Based Sorting (TBS) technology, has developed both new marker materials and TBS sorting machine technology. The results show that, for example, plastic packaging can be marked differently by POLYSECURE’s sorting code system according to their specification and then are reliably sorted with detection rates close to 100%. The basis has thus been laid for achieving higher recycling rates and a more circular economy.
ZEISS, on the other hand, as a leading company in the optical industry, has repeatedly produced market-shaping innovations in its 175-year history. These include, for example, optical coherence tomography, which is now an indispensable standard procedure for retinal examinations in ophthalmology. Or EUV lithography, which enables the production of modern semiconductor chips and was awarded by the German Future Prize in 2020. For ZEISS as a foundation driven company, sustainability and business success are inextricably linked. Sustainable value creation is an integral part of business activity, which aims at innovative solutions, contributes to a positive development in society and enables long-term and profitable growth.
First milestone for the strategic cooperation: development of a new multi-modal detector
A first milestone for the strategic cooperation is the development of a new optical detector that can combine several measurements for each waste object: tracer detection, a NIR (near infrared) measurement, colour measurement and image recognition (AI artificial intelligence) as well as the detection of a watermark, if necessary. After passing through the detection unit, all objects in a waste stream are precisely filed according to their specification and fraction affiliation. Furthermore, waste streams can also be sorted by manufacturer brand and/or product groups using the new process. Due to the high quality and purity of these pre-sortings, more plastic waste, for example, can be processed CO2-efficiently into useful recyclates by mechanical recycling. This would be a great step in the circular economy.
Max Riedel, head of the ZEISS Innovation Hub @ KIT said:
“The two technology companies complement each other ideally here. POLYSECURE produces the tracers, provides the process innovations and the sorting machine construction, while ZEISS provides the optical components and image processing.”
The new detector technology will be integrated into a new sorting line at POLYSECURE in Freiburg, which also includes the separation and depositing of the sorted goods and can be used as a pilot plant by all stakeholders in the recycling industry for sorting tests. The sorting line will be designed for numerous waste streams: Plastic packaging, textiles, shredded vehicles, white goods, electrical products and even production waste from the plastics industry.
Both partners are convinced that the new sorting process will not lead to any additional costs in the recycling processes, but that the innovative technology can sort much more reliably, precisely and flexibly than today’s technology. Once the technical and economic goals have been achieved, POLYSECURE and ZEISS, together with other strategic partners, plan to push the new technology on a worldwide basis.
Jochen Moesslein, CEO and founder of POLYSECURE, comments:
“The cooperation with ZEISS will further improve our technologies. We are ready for the next innovative leap and implementation step.”