The Chempet Revolution [Interview with Guido Fragiacomo]

Developing new formulations and new recycled materials that can compete with virgin materials is the new challenge of the chemical industry. An analysis by Guido Fragiacomo.

Monomaterial plastic can be easily mechanically recycled and subsequently reused. The recovery of mixed plastics, on the other hand, still represents an open challenge that requires a different approach based on new chemical recycling processes and technologies. The attention of companies that intend to pursue the circular economy paradigm is directed above all to polymeric materials that flow into the plasmix, the set of heterogeneous plastics used in post-consumer packaging that is no longer recoverable. In fact, 40% of the plastic coming from the separate collections cannot be sent for recycling and ends up in landfills or thermo-destructors.

Among the companies committed to finding a solution to the barriers of recycling mixed packaging, there is the Piedmontese company Garbo, which has developed an innovative and exclusive technology throughout the country under the acronym of ChemPET.

The large-scale efforts to recycle PET-based mixed plastic waste – as pointed out by the owner of the company Guido Fragiacomo – are limited by the fact that there is no mechanical recycling technology that allows to obtain a secondary raw material capable of justifying the recovery from a qualitative and cost point of view. The ChemPET project was born from this premise, based on a chemical recycling process capable of converting the Pet present in mixed plastics into an intermediate, Bhet (bis-hydroxy-ethylene-terephthalate) by depolymerization (via glycolysis), which it can be used, in place of monomers of fossil origin, to re-create virgin PET.

The production of cRPET (chemically recycled Pet) represents the missing link in the Pet value chain and will lead to expanding the growth of the true circular economy and making plastics more sustainable. Thanks to the ChemPET industrial project, Garbo has been awarded by the European Union program Horizon 2020 as an innovative company able to promote solutions that face particularly relevant challenges, such as the environmental one, with the aim of making European industry more sustainable, competitive, and independent of raw materials from outside the EU. After all, the company managed by Guido Fragiacomo, with the support of his three sons, has since its foundation based its business on the circular economy.

Garbo was founded in 1997 with the intention of giving new life to recovered material and has specialized since the early years in the technology of recovering basic components, such as silicon carbide and glycol, contained in the abrasive fluids used to cut silicon wafers, of which today the company boasts 10 registered patents which are added to the 5 for Pet recovery. The companies we work with are active in the electrical semiconductor and photovoltaic sectors. With reference to the latter, we have patented and implemented a process for the recovery of silicon scraps which consists of a regeneration of the powders that go through chemical purification treatments that remove contamination and allow the silicon to return to a level of purity equal to 99.9999%. The recovery of silicon carbide and glycol from processing scraps allows the photovoltaic industry to cut costs and reduce the environmental impact, making the supply chain more sustainable.

As further confirmation of Garbo’s commitment to establishing itself among the Italian excellences that have adopted a sustainable production system that is attentive to the environment and the health of workers, in 2018 the renovation works of the Cerano plant were completed. «Thanks to the funding received from the Isi Inail tender, a new roof was built for the plant, reclaimed from materials that contained traces of asbestos. We do not exclude – concludes Fragiacomo – other investments in the future».

Through the Reciplast project we are developing new innovative recycling processes on other plastics currently not recovered. The Reciplast project, co-financed by the Piedmont region and the European Union, involves leading companies in the food industry and in the automotive sector and is aimed at expanding the possibilities of reuse of plastic used for packaging (multi-material film ) and in end-of-life auto components. Garbo is positioned as leader among the participating partners thanks to ChemPET technology in order to increase the sustainability of the entire supply chain.

This article by Angela Querciola originally appeared in the Green Economy magazine, distributed at Ecomondo 2021.

Read it at this link.