Submitting InstitutionBrunel University
Unit of AssessmentAeronautical, Mechanical, Chemical and Manufacturing Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Chemical Sciences: Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry
Engineering: Materials Engineering
Summary of the impact
Research at Brunel University demonstrated how the Powder Impression
Moulding (PIM) process can be adapted to form a solid-skinned and foamed
core polymer lightweight sandwich panel from 100% mixed post-consumer
polymers. The research showed that unlike conventional plastic recycling
technologies, this process was tolerant to high concentrations of
impurities. It was also shown that coarse flakes could be used as
feedstock, removing the need to grind the feedstock to a fine powder.
This, for the first time, established the PIM process as a recyling method
and provides a source of income for industries collecting post-consumer
plastics. In 2009, ERT Plc, who own the IP associated with PIM, signed a
licence agreement with 2K Manufacturing Ltd to manufacture and sell a
range of flat-board products made from 100% mixed post-consumer plastics.
These boards are sold as EcoSheets and are 2K Manufacturing's only
product. 2K buy post-consumer recycled plastics from recycling firms who
run Municipal Recycling Facilities, (MRF), providing them with increased
income from waste collected from consumers, and sell EcoSheets to a
variety of industries and distributors for applications in construction,
agriculture, flood control facilities and military uses. For commercial
reasons, exact production and sales figures are not available, but we
estimate that at least 1 million boards have been produced and sold since
2009. The impact on the end user is that, although the price of an
EcoSheet is comparable to the plywood board it replaces, EcoSheet does not
rot, is more workable, and can be recycled several times.
ERT Plc have licensed the technology enhanced by the Brunel research to a
number of other businesses.Thus the research at Brunel has assisted the
creation of a new industrial sector, and a new product with many
advantages, including reduced reliance on virgin polymers and reduced
environmental burdens (such as landfill costs), over the product it
replaces. This has created economic and environmental benefits at all
stages of the consumer plastic cycle, creating new industries and jobs.
The Powder Impression Moulding (PIM) process converts plastic powder into
reusable lightweight sandwich structures. The process involves formation
of two skin layers by sintering plastic powder on a mould surface,
creation of the core in between and foaming of the core to produce an
integrated sandwich structure with solid skins. Depending on the
formulation, PIM materials offer similar performance features to foam
boards, fibre boards, floor boards and insulation boards. Before the
Brunel University research took place these have only been manufactured
with virgin polymers.
Strategy Board-funded project, Advanced Material: Materials for Extended
First Use and Re-Use(PIM) (2007-2009) explored product opportunities
for the materials produced by the PIM process using mixed plastic
recyclates. It was led by Prof Jim Song from Brunel University (the
academic investigator) and Environmental Recycling Technologies Ltd (the
industrial lead) along with other industrial partners Bovis Lend Lease,
Tesco, St Regis Paper Company Ltd, Philip Tyler Polymers and PERA.
It is well known that flat-board PIM materials have similar performance
features (although their usage is not widespread) to insulation boards,
timber, plastic foams, and so on, all widely used in UK industry, in
particular in the construction industry. The project aimed to develop
pallets, packaging and simple furniture using mixed post-consumer plastics
through the PIM process, which would be commercially competitive and
Prof Song investigated variants of the PIM process using different
mixtures of plastic waste. He identified a novel approach that could
produce sustainable PIM sandwich panels from plastics with up to 100%
mixed post-consumer plastic waste.
The team established that the novel PIM process was (i) exceptionally
tolerant to contaminations within the recyclate feedstock (sand, soil,
paper, metal and other non-polymer debris)  minimising the need for
cleaning pre-treatment of the waste plastic; (ii) that the process
tolerates high concentration of dissimilar polymers in the feedstock,
reducing the cost of polymer segregation and purification  and (iii)
feedstock from MRF in medium sized flake forms can be directly used in PIM
panels, saving excessive powder pulverisation as in the conventional PIM
These findings demonstrate that the process can operate with minimum
sorting, purifying and cleaning and resizing of mixed waste plastic
recyclates as long as waste streams from different sources are monitored
so that the dominating polymer concentration is sufficient for appropriate
melting, encapsulation of high melting point foreign particles and
foaming. Hence the novel process is both energetically and economically
cheaper than the conventional process.
Thus, by demonstrating that mixed post-consumer plastics could be used in
the PIM process, the project established the PIM process as a recycling
method for the first time.
References to the research
1) Kun Qi, Jim Song, Karnik Tarverdi, Recycling of mixed plastics using
PIM technology Part I — Influence of impurities in the feedstock on
mechanical properties of PIM sandwich panels, Proceeding of 1st
International Conference on Recycling and Reuse of Materials, ICRM 2009.
Kottayam, Kerala India, 17-19 July 2009. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/7660
2) Kun Qi, Jim Song, Karnik Tarverdi, Recycling of mixed plastics using
PIM technology Part II — Influence of loading and flake size of mixed
plastics on mechanical properties of PIM sandwich panels, Proceeding of 1st
International Conference on Recycling and Reuse of Materials, ICRM 2009.
Kottayam, Kerala India, 17-19 July 2009. http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/7661
• Re-Plas Materials for Extended First Use and Re-use (2007-2009)
Technology Strategy Board, £1.2M, PI Prof. J Song
Process to Engineer and Manufacture Medium to High Value 3D
Products Using Mixed Polymer Recyclate (3DPIM)
(2010-2013), European Commission, 1.8M euro, PI Prof. J Song.
Details of the impact
The project developed a novel Powder Impression Moulding (PIM) process
which can manufacture lightweight sandwich structures from 100% mixed
post-consumer polymer. The process has exceptionally high tolerance to
feedstock variations (contamination, dissimilar materials and particle
size) and thus it is energetically and economically competitive to
conventional PIM and uniquely effective recycling technology for dealing
with mixed/comingled plastics difficult to recycle using other existing
Potentially, these panels can replace plywood in construction
applications, of which over 25 milion sheets are used every year in the
UK. This process also creates a value-added market for mixed waste
plastics by capturing waste plastics for reuse. The UK uses over 5 million
tonnes of plastic each year, of which only 19% is being recovered or
recycled (source: British Plastics Federation 2010).
Environmental Recycling Technologies Plc (ERT), the lead industrial
partner on the TSB grant, owns the worldwide IP for the PIM process, sells
licences to manufacturers and retailers to produce and sell PIM products.
Extending the use of PIM to mixed post-consumer plastics, and reducing the
need for extensive segregation, cleaning and grinding, has increased the
value of this IP.
In 2009, 2K Manufacturing Ltd was launched to exploit the new technology.
They signed an exclusive £2M licence with ERT to manufacture EcoSheet,
produced by the novel PIM process, made of 100% recycled waste plastics in
the UK. 2K Manufacturing Ltd now employs 16 people and has ramped up
production very quickly. In 2011 the Economist reported that 2K
Manufacturing could produce 360,000 EcoSheets per year and ERT have
reported since then that the capacity of the plant has increased
substantially. For commercial reasons, exact production and sales figures
are not available, but we estimate that at least 1 million boards have
been produced and sold since 2009. Both ERT and 2K Manufacturing
acknowledge the contribution of Brunel University research to the early
commercialisation of EcoSheet on their respective websites.
EcoSheets received a Federation of Small Business Award in June 2012, a
National Recycling Award in July 2011 and a Manufacturing Excellence Award
in July 2011. EcoSheet retails at the same price as plywood, but it is
easier to work because it does not produce dangerous splinters. It does
not rot, so has substantial advantages in a number of application areas,
such as in the agricultural sector, where it is used for animal shelters.
Finally, whereas the plywood it replaces would end up in landfill,
EcoSheet, even if it has been painted and is full of nails, can be
recycled into more EcoSheet.
ERT Plc have granted further licences to:
- Contour Showers Ltd to manufacture high-value shower trays from over
90% recycled material.
- Brownwater Plastics in Kentucky, USA to manufacture long-span barge
- Dodge Dakota to manufacture a complete truck bed section of pick-up
The novel PIM process can also produce encapsulated automotive parts to
protect them from corrosion, as well as defence shields, flood barriers,
roll cages, pallets and fence panels.
Sources to corroborate the impact
- Construction Consultant at Environmental Recycling Technology Plc
- Sales Director for 2K Manufacturing Ltd http://www.ecosheet.com/
- The Economist, The Plastic Sausage Machine, 2009 http://www.economist.com/node/14255246