Making plastic recycling more efficient: Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl named European Inventor Award 2019 finalists

  • Austrian inventors and businessmen Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl nominated for European Patent Office (EPO) prize for their plastic recycling technology
  • Their inventions efficiently turn a wide variety of plastic waste into high-quality pellets that can be used to make new products
  • With more than 6 000 of their machines in operation worldwide producing 14.5million tonnes of pellets annually, their company is a global leader in its field

Munich, 7 May 2019 – The European Patent
Office (EPO) announces that Austrian inventors and businessmen Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl have been nominated
for the European Inventor Award 2019 as finalists in the category “Industry”, for
developing technology that efficiently recycles plastic waste into high-quality
pellets, which can in turn be made into new products.

Their technology is commercialised through a company that is part of a
group where Hackl and Feichtinger ran the business together for a number of years.
The company has machines in use in 108 countries and is a global leader in
developing and manufacturing plastics recycling systems and technologies.

“Feichtinger
and Hackl’s technology closes the loop in plastics recycling. They have increased
its efficiency and developed a better end product, which is great news for
business,” said EPO President António Campinos on their nomination for the European
Inventor Award 2019. “And they show
how innovators and innovation in industry can help to address a pressing environmental
issue, and so make society greener too.”

The winners of the 2019 edition of the EPO’s annual
innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Vienna on 20 June.

Innovative Counter Current
technology

Plastic recycling has
been a long-standing issue for industry as it is a far more complex task than
processing materials such as glass and metals – which basically just need sorting,
cleaning and melting for reuse. Each type of plastic polymer requires a
specific method for reclaiming salvageable material. This is further complicated
by the fact that demand for recycled plastic sharply decreases when oil prices are
low, as does the price of virgin plastics (i.e. new material that does not come
from recycled plastic). As a consequence, out of the 58 million tonnes of
plastic waste produced in the EU every year, only 30% is recycled.

To tackle the issues
presented by plastic recycling, Austrian inventors Klaus Feichtinger and
Manfred Hackl are working to make the process as innovative and efficient as
possible. They are doing this by developing and building state-of-the-art
machines that enable industry to recycle and reuse plastic waste as a valuable
resource.  

These machines, sometimes
the size of buses, work by moving plastic matter along conveyor belts. Material
is cut, mixed, heated, dried, pre-compacted and buffered in a cutter/compactor
before entering an extruder where the material is plasticised, homogenised and
then cleaned. A core element in Hackl and Feichtinger’s devices is their
patented Counter Current technology.

Previously, material
inside the cutter/compactor had been turned in the same direction as the
extruder screw, which meant that there was sometimes a difference in the
material flow inside the screw. Hackl and Feichtinger’s Counter Current
technology reverses this principle, so the material inside the cutter/compactor
rotated in the opposite direction to the extruder’s flow. Hackl explains that “it’s a bit like taking a beaker, when
you’re sitting by a stream, and then filling it, either in the direction of
flow, then the cup is only partly filled, or against the direction of flow –
then the cup is completely full the whole time”. Feichtinger goes on to say
that “it turned out that the filling
process was far better – the flow was more stable. Plus, we realized that the
quality could be sharply improved as well,” adding that “it only took me about
15 minutes to sketch out the basic idea. Detailed engineering and optimisation –
as well as scaling up – took longer of course. We tried it out and found that
it works.”

Their
invention means that the extruder can handle more material in a shorter period
of time, and process plastic even at lower temperatures, resulting in more
throughput and better quality. Their Counter Current technology consequently
improves productivity and also enables waste from previously untapped segments.
The machines can, for example, recycle heavily printed plastic films like those
used to wrap consumer items.

Other
key technologies in Hackl and Feichtinger’s recycling process include
double-vented degassing of liquid plastics, forcing melted plastics through
sieves and filters, gas-based organic waste removal and thermal-physical odour
minimisation. Combined, these steps mean that even more complex materials can
be successfully reprocessed. The end result produces pellets that are
indistinguishable from new plastics and ready for industrial reuse in a variety
of products.

Completing the circular economy through
innovation

The recycling of plastics
is a growing sector due to increasing public awareness of the problems
associated with single-use plastics, as well as growing political awareness and
action being taken by authorities. These include the EU’s Plastics Strategy released
last year, which requires that all
plastic packaging on the EU market be recyclable by 2030 – currently some 39% of the EU’s plastic waste is
incinerated while 31% ends up in landfills. China also announced in 2018 that it would stop accepting waste plastics
shipped there from other countries, which means that national authorities and
businesses will in the future need to develop their own recycling streams.

Feichtinger
and Hackl have spent nearly all their professional careers dedicated to innovation
in plastic recycling – together, for example, they hold 37 granted European
patents for their recycling inventions. They also consider themselves to be
pioneers of the circular economy: a concept aimed at minimising waste and
making the most of resources, which is leading manufacturers to rethink how
products are designed, used and recycled at the end of their useful lives.

The
Austrian inventors and are promoting this approach not only through their
technology, which enables more and more kinds of plastic waste to be recycled, but
also through the reach of the company – called EREMA, a subsidiary of EREMA
Group GmbH that Hackl runs as CEO and where Feichtinger, who recently stepped
down as CEO, continues to contribute his know-how as a manager in the area of
intellectual property and new technologies. More than 6 000 of EREMA’s recycling
systems are now in operation around the globe, and in total their machines
produce more than 14.5 million tonnes of plastic pellets every year, which the
company says makes it the global market leader in the development and
production of plastics recycling systems. The global plastic recycling market
was worth EUR 31.7 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow around 6.5% per
year to reach EUR 49.3 billion by 2024.

About the European
Inventor Award

The European
Inventor Award
is one of Europe’s most prestigious innovation
prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams
of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest
challenges of our times. The finalists and winners are selected by an
independent jury consisting of
international authorities from the fields of business, politics, science,
academia and research who examine the proposals for their contribution towards
technical progress, social development, economic prosperity and job creation in
Europe. The Award is conferred in five categories at a ceremony that will this
year take place in Vienna on 20 June. In addition, the public selects the
winner of the Popular Prize  from among the 15 finalists by online voting
on the EPO
website in the run-up to the ceremony. Voting is open until 16 June 2019. 

About the EPO

With nearly 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the
largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with
offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the
aim of strengthening cooperation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO’s
centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality
patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million
people. The EPO is also the world’s leading authority in patent information and
patent searching. 

Additional resources

View the
patents:
EP2766166, EP2689908, EP2766157, EP2766158, EP2766159

Additional
information, photos and videos about the European Inventor Award 2019 can be
found in the EPO Media Centre. Smart TV users can download our app “Innovation TV” and watch videos about all finalists on
their TV screen. The award ceremony on 20 June 2019 will be broadcast live on
Innovation TV, the EPO website and the EPO’s Facebook page. 

Media contacts European Patent Office

Jana Mittermaier
Director External Communication

Rainer Osterwalder
Press Spokesperson

EPO
Press Desk

Tel. +49 89 2399 1833
Mobile: +49 16 3839 9527
press@epo.org

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