R&D Projects

R&D Projects

Foam Ecosolution Innovation business model specifically targets polyurethane foam as a source to produce recycled polyol, which can replace virgin polyol in the PU manufacturing process. However, the process itself can be categorized in three main perspectives named as A) sorting and physical recycling, B) chemical recycling to polyol and C) reproducing polyurethane foam from recycled polyol. Although there are many recyclers of general and physical foam across North America and the developed world, our research suggests that, with the exception of the re-bonded flexible foam industry (previously outlined under Industry Analysis) there are currently no active targeted chemical recycling programs that aim to recover waste polyurethane foam for high-value reprocessing as intended by FEI chemical technology. Therefore, our entire technical process is categorized in these three subdivision as follow:

  1. Physical recycling, sorting, cleaning and shredding PU foam

Physical recycling of PU foam is an alternative approach to landfilling. On the one hand, there are physical processes, which do not modify polymer internal structure. Physically recycled PU foam cannot be applied for chemical PU foam formation again and they only can be used for re-bonding process which is developed for carpet underlay and low value animal bed materials. As a consequence, chemical recycling processes are the best ones to be used.

Although physical recycling of PU foam doesn’t give us any value-added product; we are still required to get into that process for producing clean shredded PU foam material for further chemical recycling process. The physical process consists basically on the waste mechanical transformation into flakes, granules or powder to be used in new materials production. The main advantages of these methods are their simplicity and their low cost with successful results for the thermoplastic polyurethane recovery. Approximately, physical processes only recycle a very low percentages (less than 5%) of produced polyurethane globally. As example for soft mattress PU foam, during the recycling process each bed box is pushed onto a conveyor belt, where specially designed saws cut away soft materials on the top and bottom, separating the polyurethane foam and cotton fiber from the framework. The metal pieces are magnetically removed, and the remaining PU foam and fiber materials are then optically separated using smart optical sorting machinery. Then the separated materials are shredded to customized sizes and baled. The whole process takes two/three worker just three to four minutes per mattress.  Such complete machinery process is now available to be purchased commercially.

  1. Chemical recycling of PU waste foam to recycled polyol

FEI’s proprietary process uses glycolysis reactions to chemically convert waste polyurethane foam to recycled polyol products or Recyclopol™. In the FEI’s process, waste polyurethane foams react with diols (diethylene glycol) at elevated temperatures together with two different types of catalysts, generally referred to as “amine-based” and “metal-based” chemical catalysts to break the urethane bonds and release polyols. Depending on the type of waste PU foam (rigid or soft), the type of catalyst can be varied to optimize reaction rate.  Although we have performed preliminary chemical research work; but we still need to investigate weight ratio of waste PU foam to the solvent system in glycolysis reaction to optimize chemical reaction process.  Core to FEI’s technical innovation, the obtained recycled polyol products can be simply blended with virgin polyol materials up to 40%. At this blending ratio, the end user or industrial polyurethane manufacturers would not need to make significant modifications to their polyol formulation. Our earlier studies conducted at university of British Columbia (supported and fully funded research study by FEI) have validated the similarities of the analytical properties between recycled polyol and virgin polyols in terms of product density, resilience and reaction profile (mixing, cream and gel times). However, to aim higher blending ratio (>50%) or just using 100% recycled polyol as solo polyol, a significant modification or re-formulation study is required. To enhance the quality of the recycled polyol to be used as stand-alone polyol for PU foam formation, other chemical additives such as surfactant, appropriate blowing agent, catalyst, fire retardant and fillers are required to be added in appropriate ratios.  

Chemical recycling process of Waste PU foam

4- Upcycling recycled polyol to rigid PU foam for construction application

In building and construction, polyurethanes are used to make high-performance products that are strong but lightweight, perform well and are durable and versatile. Polyurethane products such as Insulated concrete form (ICF), simple rigid PU foam block and insulation panel also can help enhance the aesthetic design of homes and buildings. As an insulation, roofing and spray polyurethane foams (SPF) can play a major role in insulating and air-sealing homes and buildings; helping to reduce air leakage, which can result in lower utility bills, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and improved indoor air quality by helping to eliminate infiltration of dust and allergens. Strong, durable spray foam also can improve a building’s strength – it essentially increases a building’s resistance to wind uplift, helping to protect a building against severe weather conditions. The PU foams are formed by the reaction between an isocyanate (or A side) and a Polyol (or B side) in the presence of a blowing agent, and many other added chemical additives on the B side. The polyol properties mostly dictate the final properties of PU foam (to be soft or rigid and hydrophilic or hydrophobic). Therefore, formulating polyol by selecting appropriate chemicals such as ester-based polymers or ether-based polymers, surfactants, catalysts, blowing agents, fire retardants and fillers can result in PU foam with different physical properties and various applications. In this research study, we are aiming at the formulation of recycled polyol which is pre-made from waste flexible mattress foam to be used as stand-alone polyol and also as blended material with other available industrial polyol for the production of rigid insulation PU foam. We will make rigid PU foam insulation parts by using injection molding process. The foam will be generated in a 3 pieces mold as shown below. All molding and PU foam reactor machine will be provided by FEI. In this process, polyurethane foam materials will be injected into a closed mold by using high pressure dispenser machinery. The high-pressure forces the polyurethane to completely fill the mold cavity. The resulting product is net shape, or near net shape, directly out of the mold. Injection molding is traditionally thought of for high-volume production.