Wimao Ltd, a Finnish cleantech company, is doing its part to tackle climate change by creating technology that recycles mixed plastic waste and transforms it into an environmentally friendly composite product.
Greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced significantly over the course of the next 30 years. As a result, global targets have been set by both companies and countries – doing nothing to reduce these emissions is no longer an option.
In their latest press release, released in conjunction with Climate Week NYC, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation highlighted the important role that circular economy plays in tackling the problem of climate change: “Today’s efforts have focused on the critical role of renewable and energy-efficient measures in the transition to a net-zero economy. However, meeting climate targets will also require tackling the remaining 45% harder-to-abate global emissions, which are associated with the production of goods and materials. A circular economy offers a systems-level and cost-effective approach to tackling this challenge.
“This paper shows that when applied to the food system and industry (more specifically to cement, steel, plastic and aluminium production), circular economy strategies could help reduce global emissions by around 9.3 Gt CO2 emissions in 2050. This is equivalent to removing all forms of GHG-emitting transport from the planet. Such an emissions reduction could bring key industry materials 40% and the food system 49% closer to their respective net-zero emissions targets for 2050.”
Unique technology that transforms waste into ecological and economical products
Wimao Ltd’s patented technology will be crucial in helping European countries reach their recycling targets in regard to both construction and demolition related waste, in addition to meeting their targets for mixed plastic waste.
Ville Immonen, the managing director of Wimao Ltd, said: “Wimao is flipping the ‘take, make and dispose of’ model on its head and helping EU member states meet their ambitious targets to recycle up to 75% of waste by 2023. In the past three years, we at WIMAO have put our careers in recycling to use by developing ‘REMAT’: a patented technology to turn non-recyclable mixed plastic waste streams and many other non-recycled materials into environmentally friendly composite products.
“Our products have full consistency and the same physical properties as those made of plastic, wood or glass fiber. Beyond that, the end products we manufacture are recyclable at the end of their life cycle, creating an infinite and environmentally conscious loop.” The patented technology implemented by Wimao is based on longstanding research conducted at Lappeenranta University.
Wimao’s ecological composites
Composites are composed of two or more materials that work together without dissolving or merging together. Composite materials can be made from metal, wood, plastic or ceramic. The end goal of creating composites is to maximise the use of these materials while at the same time, minimising any bad characteristics from these materials for the final composite. Examples of common composite materials include reinforced concrete made from metal and ceramic, fibreglass made from ceramic and plastic, wood composite made from wood and plastic, and car tires made from rubber and metal wires.
Biocomposites are a specific type of composite that includes at least one bio-based component, such as wood. Wood itself is organic, but it can also be called a biocomposite since it’s composed of cellulose and lignin, which acts as the binder. Biocomposites are also referred to as wood-plastic composites (WPC) or natural fibre composites.
Wimao’s composites are biocomposites, with their main raw materials being mixed plastic waste and recycled wood fibres (i.e from construction and demolition waste). Also, other recycled fibres can be used, such as paper and carton based fibres, textile (natural and synthetic fibres), mineral wool and gypsum. Since the raw materials used to create these composites are waste, there is a much higher life cycle analysis and greater potential for CO2 emission reduction. The circulatory of the materials that Wimao uses is a direct response to the increasing scarcity of resources.
Lower carbon and water footprint
The products which are created from recycled materials are going to reduce the total waste that needs to be dumped into landfills or incinerated, which causes pollutants to be released into the air. By using waste materials that can be kept in circulation, this creates a manufacturing process with a much lower carbon and water footprint compared to manufacturing processes that use virgin raw materials.
Miia Liikanen from Lappeenranta University stated in their Life cycle assessment (LCA) study: “It was studied that on average, every ton of composite product produced in the pilot line, saves one to four tons of greenhouse gas emissions depending on the product that is being replaced and the material used. […] In terms of climate change and fossil depletion, WPC production is an advisable treatment method for CDW when the produced WPC substitutes plastic or aluminium in the final application of the material.”
The primary objectives of this study were to assess the total environmental impact of WPC production by using CDW fractions (including wood, plastic, mineral wool, and plasterboard as raw materials). This impact was then compared to the baseline impact created using conventional waste treatment methods, including landfills and incineration. The study was primarily focused on reducing fossil hydrocarbons in an effort to combat climate change. The results of the study found that the environmental impact was decreased when using WPC production rather than materials such as plastic, aluminium, and other materials. Although the difference in properties does not allow for WPCs to replace these materials in a 1:1 ratio, it is possible to substitute WPCs in percentages of plastics, aluminium, and other materials. For instance, the study found that by substituting 6% of plastic with WPCs, it can decrease the negative impact on the environment.
It is specifically estimated that products from Wimao’s composite materials will have a beneficial impact on the production of climate-changing waste products. For instance, producing pallets from Wimao’s composite materials is currently “estimated to have lower impacts compared to the production of the pallets made of wood due to several reasons. First of all, Wimao’s composite pallets are lighter, thus requiring less material. Second, the pallets are 99% made of waste which carries no burden from the previous life cycles when applying a commonly known zero-burden approach. Third, the WPC pallets are stackable (17 WPC pallets would fit into the space occupied by 10 wooden pallets), thus requiring less space and enabling higher mass-based utilisation ratios of trucks during pallets delivery to the customers and their collection. However, the largest negative impact from the WPC pallets are expected to occur during their incineration at the end-of-life since the pallets are 50% made of plastic, a fossil resource. The impacts from the EoL could be, however, reduced through closed-loop recycling of the WPC pallets.”
Reducing CO2 emissions to reduce climate change
The innovative technology used by Wimao Ltd is going to help reduce total CO2 emissions around the globe. The current level of CO2 emissions is not sustainable for the climate and is directly leading to climate change that must be addressed on an international scale.
Wimao Ltd’s technology will help to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions traditionally caused by incineration, which is the standard process used to deal with materials that are ordinarily considered waste. By extending the life cycle of these materials, Wimao Ltd is directly contributing to a reduction in CO2 emissions. Since this technology can be utilised around the world, it has the potential to change global industries.
The market for recycling waste material has enormous global potential. The amount of waste produced around the globe can be calculated in billions of tons, meaning there is no shortage of waste material that can be recycled and created into composite material using Wimao Ltd’s innovative technology. The versatile possibilities for composite products allow for the use of endless variations on materials, content variations, and more. The Wimao Ltd process also simplifies the sorting and pre-treatment process for mixed waste materials which are traditionally difficult to recycle. This simplified process allows for industrial-scale plants to be built conveniently near waste streams, which will streamline the process even further.
CO2 reductions into the future: start small, think big
When recycling 300,000 tons of waste a year into Wimao’s ecological composite material, tradename Wemix®, it is estimated that the carbon reduction generated by promoting ecological composite production is 300,000 to 1,200,000 tons per year — that is a massive reduction compared to the carbon produced by traditional manufacturing and waste management processes. Moreover, the more mixed plastic and other ‘hard-to-recycle’ waste are processed through this innovative technology, the more climate change can be combated with the direct reduction of carbon emissions.
Wimao’s CEO Ville Immonen said: “The company has been preparing for the construction of several larger industrial plants in Finland for some time, as demand for environmentally friendly composite products is increasing and thus there is a need to increase production capacity […] Our technology has a lot of interest and we are aiming for international business. Wimao is operating at the heart of the circular economy and is looking for growth by expanding its operations and offering patented manufacturing technology for recycling to other companies, thus enabling recycling targets to be met in Finland and abroad.”
It is possible for everyone to do their part in combating climate change by transitioning to environmentally friendly manufacturing and waste management processes. The innovative, ecological sound technology developed by Wimao Ltd is one significant way that companies, countries and even individuals can do their part to reduce the impact of climate change on the future.
Wimao Ltd is a Finnish cleantech company operating in circular economy. Established in 2016 to develop and commercialise patented technology for turning waste into ecological composite products. Thanks to the technology’s versatile design capabilities, there are many applications in various industries, such as logistics, construction, packaging, automotive and electrical engineering. Products can replace existing products or components made of plastic, wood or metal, even stone and concrete.
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Please note, this article will appear in issue 33 of Scitech Europa Quarterly, which is available in December 2019.