#PlasticRecycling innovators scoop major award

| June 21, 2019

Working in the plastic recycling industry for 20 plus years may not sound incredibly enthralling, but for Austrian inventors Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl, the industry was an opportunity to innovate, writes David Kunz. 

The two began working on a basic design to recycle plastic in 1983. Hackl has been working in the plastic recycling industry for 24 years, Feichtinger for 26, but their desire was always in innovation and invention rather than environmentalism.

“It was not popular, it was not common,” said Hackl about plastic recycling. “The goal was to build a machine,” said Hackl. “Now this has changed completely,” as their company, Erema, now has a more environmental approach as plastic recycling has become more mainstream.

The machines they manufacture turn recycled plastic into small, dense pellets, which can then be used to produce other products.
The two were named as finalists for the industry award for the European Inventor Awards 2019.

On 20 June, they were announced as the winners for their Counter Current technology, beating out an automated cow milking system and a concrete mold to build more effective breakwaters. The two have been granted 37 European patents for their recycling inventions over their careers.

Feichtringer and Hackl began working together in 1983 with a basic design to recycle plastic. After being dissatisfied with the efficiency of one of their machines in 2009, they met with other inventors for a brief 15-minute meeting and found their solution – the Counter Current system.
Feichtinger said “it was a basic idea, it was a basic patent. And totally new and it was quite simple to understand.”

The Counter Current system changes the direction of the rotating tools in the chamber of the recycling machine. In turn, this increased the output and stability of plastic recycling machines. “In the beginning, everybody was joking, ‘okay, such a simple [solution], you’re crazy, this will not work properly,’” said Feichtinger.

But now, the machine is more stable and productive, says Feichtinger. This has allowed them to focus on other areas for improvement. “We would be bad engineers if we only had done such a small adoption,” said Feichtinger. “[The] stability of the machine gives it now the opportunity to put a lot of automation on it,” said Feichtinger.

In 2013, all plastic recycling machines produced by Erema switched over to this design. Since then, they have sold between 1,600 to 1,800 machines and produce over 14.5 million tonnes of plastic pellets annually. The original patent for the Counter Current technology was approved in 2010, but since then, they’ve added 12 more patents to their design.

Not only have they focused on more automation, but they’ve been able to add filters to clean the plastic pellets, as well as a gassing system that deodorizes the pellets prior to sending them to producers.

For the future, the group looks to increase the efficiency of their invention. This includes making their machine more autonomous. “You need very often experienced operators, but experience is expensive,” said Feichtinger. “So you have to try to bring this knowledge to the machine.”

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Category: A Frontpage, Austria, Environment, EU, Recycling

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