Ceced: new study on the recycling of the appliances containing vacuum insulation panels

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Ceded has published a new study on the recycling of cooling and freezing appliances that contain vacuum insulation panels (VIPs) in order to provide information to waste managers according to the WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU. The study, that was carried out in 2013-2014, assesses how the new technology of vacuum insulation panels influences recycling processes. The use of these panels has gradually increased since 2010 due to their better insulation performance compared with PU-foam. VIPs can be found in new C&F appliances of energy class A++ and A+++. Currently low quantities of these types of C&F appliances are arriving at recycling plants but the production is increasing and it is expected that this amount will increase in the coming years.
To perform the study, Ceced members provided VIPs directly from their suppliers. In total 15 different VIPs were tested, classified inceced VIP image.2014-10-14-17-37-01 6 different material groups according to the visual aspect of the core material (colour; fibers/wool or powder). The University of Leoben (Austria) was contracted to analyze the technological aspects of the VIPs and their influence on the recycling process. Small-scale tests in laboratories were performed in order to determine the impacts of the physical properties of VIPs when shredded in pilot plants. The results of this first stage were used to prepare three large scale tests conducted in three different recycling plants in different parts of Europe. Based on the outcomes of the experiences, the consultancy team also analyzed whether the current technologies perform equally for recycling new C&F appliances containing VIPs as for those containing PU-foam.
Laboratory tests showed that the main chemical component of the VIPs’ core material is silicon dioxide and that it is present in different quantities depending on the type of VIP. Other compounds such as calcium oxide, aluminum oxide, iron (III) oxide, sodium oxide and a sum of organic material are also part of the core material. During shredding tests in the pilot plant, visible dust generation occurred in four of the six material groups. This result was taken into account for the preparation of the large scale tests.
The three large scale tests were performed following the same process scheme. Empty C&F appliances were filled with VIP panels in order to simulate the worst-case scenario. In each recycling plant, six batches of refrigerators were treated under the same day-to-day operational conditions. Each batch contained refrigerators filled with VIPs of one material group. During the treatment process different key indicators were monitored such as temperature, humidity, differential pressure in filter systems, as well as output streams (PU-Foam, plastics and metals).
Despite the different technologies used in the three plants, general results regarding the recyclability of C&F appliances containing VIPs were drawn: three of the six material groups caused dust formation when appliances were treated, in particular the powdery types. In one of the plants adaptations to the filter system were done and the dust emission decreased. Output materials were not affected quantitatively and qualitatively. The majority of the VIPs’ components were found in the PU-foam output stream.
Finally, the main conclusions of the study were:
-treatment of C&F appliances containing VIPs is feasible in plants using the latest state of the art technology
-the impact of VIPs in recycling plants depends on the processing technology of the plant as well as the core material of the VIPs. Filter system and the air rate should be checked and adapted accordingly, if needed
-health and safety working conditions should be assessed and secured by the recycling plant when treating VIPs
-the amount of C&F appliances containing VIPs will probably increase in the next years; therefore the necessity of adapting technologies should be assessed on an individual basis by recycling plants.

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