Wax network: Technologies from Central Germany are set to make new wax products from plastic waste
Irina Bremerstein of Multiport GmbH in Saxony-Anhalt’s Bernburg made this situation clear this week by providing some examples at an innovation forum in Halle an der Saale. “Each year we process up to 25,000 tonnes of plastic waste made from polyethylene and polypropylene. This comes primarily from discarded sheets, tubes and containers from industry, homes and agriculture, as well as from the plastic parts of cars and electrical equipment”. Her company in Bernburg uses this to produce up to 21,000 tonnes of granulate material each year, which can be used, for example, to produce new cable ducts for the railways or new gutters.
The question of what technically sound and marketable wax and paraffin products can be developed from the valuable and sought‑after plastic waste was the focus of a symposium at the Steinbeis Center in Halle an der Saale. More than 50 experts from the fields of business, science, politics and public administration discussed, above all, the opportunities for new added value in central Germany.
The economic region in central Germany around Halle an der Saale is not linked to the chemical industry and the production of plastics merely by tradition. Continuous research and the needs of the market have time and again led to the development of innovative products and technologies, and continue to do so.
Today, the end of the oil era is in sight. For many products in the chemical industry and plastics processing industry the search for alternative raw materials and new manufacturing processes has begun in earnest. This also concerns the production of waxes and paraffins. In chemical terms these are substances made of carbon and hydrogen (alkanes) which can, amongst other things, be used to produce candles, coat paper, make rubber softer, and make various care products and polishes smoother. Up to now, the raw materials for these have primarily been products from the oil industry.
In order to sharpen one’s view of the future, it almost always makes sense to take a look at the past, and this is exactly what Dr. Johann Utzig did: “Way back in 1830 Karl Reichenbach discovered a substance, via the distillation of beech tar, which was unknown at the time and which is now known worldwide as paraffin. That’s when things really started to happend – in 1839 at the World Fair in Paris, paraffins and waxes from slate tar were put on show. In central Germany in particular the tar industry experienced an enormous boom in the 19th and 20th centuries. At its peak, up to 14 companies were operating in the region.” According to Dr. Utzig, even scientists in the GDR were faced with the challenge of producing paraffins and waxes from by-products of the oil industry and brown coal products, and developed new techniques for doing so. They were already patented in the early 1980s. A centre of research and development, for example, was the paraffin plant in Webau.
A new impetus in the development of technology for the production of paraffins and waxes came in the early 1990s. Dr. Utzig was among the inventors of the “Parak” procedure. This allows chemically contaminated containers and drums to be processed into paraffins of different consistencies by melting them and subjecting them to a subsequent vacuum process. A test plant for this purpose was brought into operation in Webau in 1997.
Today, Dr. Uwe Sauermann and Markus Klätte of the Steinbeis-RTM-Zentrum in Halle have set themselves a new goal: “Based on the research and inventions of Dr. Utzig and cooperation, for instance, with the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials (IWMH) as well as the Polymer Competence Centre Halle-Merseburg we will evaluate the latest technologies for paraffin production and their products in order to then develop a wax network with the operators of the recycling industry and the producers of waxes and paraffins in central Germany. Together we want to achieve a technological leap for valuable, marketable products.”
Today paraffins and waxes are also used in the construction industry, for example, by mixing them with bitumen. A promising area of application is the storage of heat and cold – this is something that Uwe Sauermann and Markus Climbing are almost certain of. Paraffins are already being used as latent heat reservoirs in solar thermal systems. Or, say, in the automotive industry and in modern building materials, where the most efficient use of energy is becoming increasingly important. As Sauermann and Climbing point out, with their sights set firmly on the future: “Plastic waste is not waste at all. It is our raw material for innovation!”
Author: Matthias Ulrich
Project Manager Dr. Uwe Sauermann
Am Saalehafen 1
06118 Halle (Saale)
Tel.: +49 (0) 34606 22778
Fax: +49 (0) 3222 1159144