Monday, October 21, 2013

CARE seeks California researchers to demonstrate new uses for recycled PET

Carpets made from polyester (a.k.a. polyethylene terephthalate or PET) are becoming increasingly popular. While PET made up just 4% of the post-consumer carpet (PCC) stream in 2007, at least 29% of California’s landfill-diverted carpet now consists of PET. While some of the PCC PET can be reprocessed into value-added materials such as carpet underpads, much of it is sent back to the landfill due to a lack of viable outputs. To help find new markets for this material, CARE is seeking to fund research proposals from researchers at California universities.

Carpet Face Fiber Material
N6, N66, PP, and PET refer to nylon-6, nylon-66, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate. Data is based on reports by California recyclers. Parentheses indicate the change in percentage from previous quarter. Source: CARE California AB2398 2013Q2 Results

PET is one of the most ubiquitous plastics and makes up one-sixth of global plastics production. You may be more familiar with PET in the form of a soda bottle or a polyester sweater, but PET also makes up a large amount of carpet fiber. While much of that virgin PET goes into textiles, polyester carpet is a common and growing output for recycled soda bottles.

Each time PET is recycled, it is contaminated with dyes and additives and the melting process leads to degradation, decreased strength, and optical cloudiness. The sheer amount of recycled PET available keeps prices low and the low price of virgin PET prevents chemical reprocessing into a virgin-like material. Unlike nylon, the brittleness of PET limits its reuse in embedded fibers or engineered resins. While nylon is a money maker for carpet recyclers, PET carpet cuts into their bottom line.

What would it take for the carpet industry to consider blending PCC PET back into flake for extrusion into PET carpet fiber? What are some new uses and applications for PCC PET? CARE will provide research grants to researchers at a California university who are interested in exploring these questions. The research proposal should be a multidisciplinary effort including materials science, product development, and market analysis and modeling. The deadline for submissions is December 20, 2013. Learn more about the grant and application process.

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