Hutoepito: upcycling closed-cell rigid polyurethane foams

Upcycling polyurethan foam
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Hutoepito, the parent company of KleanLabs, has been awarded a HUF 197.85 million non-refundable grant by the Hungarian Ministry of Finance to fund research, development and innovation activities under the Upcycling of closed-cell rigid polyurethane foams project. The project will run until the end of January 2025.

The widespread use of polyurethane foams in processing technology produces high volumes of waste. Proper handling of this is essential for environmental, social and economic reasons.

In order to reduce waste, the project aims to solve the mechanical recycling of closed-cell, rigid, cross-linked polyurethane foams. They want to develop a new technology to upcycle (re-use) closed-cell, rigid, cross-linked polyurethane foam materials, thereby reducing or eliminating production waste generated by Hutoepito or other market players in Hungary or even in the Central European region.

The rigid foam waste generated in the plant is subjected to a special grinding process. The resulting pellets are mixed with a custom-formulated binder in a ratio of 70-30%, to produce upcycled polyurethane foam sheets. The researchers first identified the upcycling opportunities of closed-cell polyurethane foam materials and purchased the necessary machinery. Later, they started up production of polyurethane foam and finally developed the prototypes.

The Department of Polymer Technology, Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, Budapest University of Technology has provided technical assistance and laboratory tests.

Read the research paper about the project.

Main results
  • The preliminary research indicates that various urethane prepolymers are promising binders.
  • Once the right particle size is obtained, a custom-formulated binder is added to the pellets. After the reactions take place, polyurethane foam sheets can be re-produced.
  • The main advantage of this process over current technologies is that it does not need heat to recycle polyurethane foam, thus resulting in significant energy savings.
  • To make the solution still more environmentally friendly, the polyol in the prepolymer used in the process has been replaced by a vegetable-based oil. The catalyst can be sourced from Hungarian manufacturers, thus strengthening economic cooperation among local companies.