CARE Request for Proposals: University PET Project

Posted on July 3, 2014

CARE Request for Proposals
University PET Project
June 3, 2014

Purpose of Project:
CARE is seeking proposals for a 12-18 month project to demonstrate value-added uses for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) derived from post-consumer PET carpets (PCC). The goals of this project are to develop processes, products and identify viable market outlets for this feedstock. The scope of the project will cover fundamental materials science and specifications of PCC derived PET as a key feedstock, viable processes for conversion into a product(s), identification of market outlets and a business plan based on an economic model to translate the product(s) to the marketplace. Prototype products are required to demonstrate proof of principle and market contacts are encouraged. It is expected that a cross-disciplinary team based approach will be part of the proposal.

Background:
Over the past decade, post consumer carpet (PCC) recycling has grown and developed its own market driven industry. With CARE’s help, this industry has become very sophisticated and has developed intricate processes to recycle PCC. There are 4 basic polymer types used to manufacture carpet (both broadloom and tile): nylon 6, nylon 66, polyester (PET) and polypropylene (PP). The national recycling infrastructure has become increasingly successful solely based on the value of nylon face fibers. The entire U.S. PCC recycling industry, manufacturers and entrepreneurs alike, have developed technically and financially viable businesses based on the high value of nylon engineered resins and fibers. Nylon has always had a large and diverse base of end uses and applications from engineered plastics to fiber applications. The only barrier in broadening the deployment of high value nylon made from PCC has been the development of technology to efficiently separate nylon from the other carpet constituents and purify the resultant nylon to levels nearly equivalent to those of postindustrial scrap. Over the past 10 years, these methods have been commercialized and the result has been a robust growth in the acceptance and use of post-consumer nylon from carpet in a large variety of end uses.

Polypropylene (PP) face fiber carpets and which also contain PP backing are also being successfully recycled. Since the value of PP is much less valuable than that of nylon, it cannot form the sole basis of a successful recycling business. It becomes accretive to the viability of any post- consumer Nylon carpet recycling system.

The other major face fiber is polyester (PET). Presently there are very few outlets for this recycled polymer. While PET resin, both virgin and recycled PET derived from bottles, is ubiquitous, the technology has not proven economically feasible for PCC derived feedstocks.
CARE will make information and access to existing products and processes available to aid research, including processing plant visits if deemed necessary.

PET Challenge:
Since the entire recycling infrastructure for recycling PCC was and is based on nylon, and to a lesser extent, polypropylene, other PCC materials, such as PET carpet in particular, have become a major negative cost factor to collectors/processors. The reason is simple: There is no readily established high value market for rPET in the normal “plastics world”, as was the case for nylon. Therefore, end uses for PET must be developed in other areas. From a technical standpoint, PET has no “stand alone” engineered resins specifications or high volume applications due to the brittleness of PET polymer. There are a large number of other potential applications and it must be proven that PCC derived PET can be made to fit those applications.

Why has PET become such a problem so quickly? Just 7 years ago [2007], CARE data shows that approximately 4% of the PCC stream collected was PET. In 2013, the percentage of PET in the collection stream is now estimated to be 34% and growing. If no solution is found, close to half of all collected PCC will find its way back into landfills at unsustainable costs to recyclers.

Project Proposal:
Problem Statement: There is a need to create new approaches to make and use rPET that has been harvested from old carpets available to use in new and existing markets. Proposals are solicited along one of the following two tracks:

Track 1: Create a viable polymer stream that is usable for carpet or other plastic markets.
What would it take for the carpet industry to consider blending PCC PET back into flake for extrusion into PET carpet fiber? The purpose of this track is to explore methods of cleaning and/or depolymerization of fiber that has been harvested from used carpets. The grant will fund research for new methods/processes that result in resin that meets identified market demands for cost and quality.

Track 2: Find new end use(s) for rPET that has either been cleaned and/or depolymerized.
What can a source of rPET be used for in its next life. This grant track will explore new applications for the use of rPET derived from post-consumer carpet. The project will focus on product uses and identify new markets for rPET (e.g., rPET as a feedstock for 3-D printing or rPET for use in the apparel or building industry products).

Time Frame
This high impact proposal is targeted for duration of 1 to 1.5 years. The proposed start date is academic year 2015 and with an end date of 1-1.5 years. However, other time cycles will be given consideration with justification. During this time frame, a clear and economically viable path toward PET carpet recycling must be developed. While the infrastructure for the path forward cannot be built out totally in one year, demonstration of a variety of technologies, applicable products, market outlets, performance specifications and an economic model(s) will be complete.

Skills Required
CARE is looking for a multi-disciplinary team approach to include:
• Material science and polymer physics
• Polymer processing
• Product development
• Product performance testing
• Market analysis
• Economic modeling
• Track record of product and process development

Program Reporting:
• Reporting and milestones:
a. Initial milestone: proposal outline and timeline for selected proposal
b. Quarterly reports to CARE Executive Director (Power Point format except for financial models and performance data)
c. 6 month reviews with CARE Board of Directors
d. Prepare comprehensive final report and make a presentation on path forward at 2016 CARE National meeting

Financial Commitment
• The PET project is a commitment to be funded at $500,000.
• Candidate will be required to sign a) a conflict of interest agreement, b) a Non-Disclosure Agreement, and offer CARE members a royalty free non-exclusive agreement.
• University overhead must not exceed 25%.
• Proposal may be for contract research if needed.
• The proposal is open to any U.S. based academic institution with a research program.

Application
• Applications should be sent electronically in Word format and limited to 5 pages (10 point font) to: Dr. Robert Peoples, Executive Director, CARE, bpeoples@carpetrecovery.org
• Proposals should outline the multi-disciplinary skills proposed for the team
• Include a draft work plan and project timeline
• Include lead academic advisors with email and phone contact information
• Acknowledge any conflicts or prior employment with carpet industry and/or recycling industry entities.

Selection Process
A CARE selection Committee will review proposals and make a final decision by mid-December 2014. Projects work must commence in 2016.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS: September 30, 2014 5 pm EDT