Plasma recycling

A new recycling plant uses plasma technology to separate aluminium and plastic components from cartons.

Alcoa’s Brazilian affiliate Alcoa Aluminio has joined Tetra Pak, Klabin and TSL Ambiental  to inaugurate the world’s first carton packaging recycling facility located in Piracicaba, Brazil.

The plant uses plasma technology developed by TSL Ambiental, which enables the total separation of aluminium and plastic components from cartons. The process is an enhancement to the current recycling process for carton packaging, which up until now, separated paper, but kept plastic and aluminium together.

The application of plasma technology for the recycling of carton packaging employs electrical energy to produce a jet of plasma at 15 thousand degrees Celsius to heat the plastic and aluminium mixture. With this process, plastic is transformed into paraffin and the aluminium is recovered in the form of high-purity ingot.

Alcoa, which supplies thin-gauge aluminium foil to Tetra Pak for aseptic packaging, uses the recycled aluminium to manufacture new foils. Paraffin is sold to the Brazilian petrochemical industry. The paper, extracted during the first phase of the recycling process, is transformed into cardboard by Klabin.

The new plasma facility has the capacity to process 8 thousand tons per year of plastic and aluminium, corresponding to recycling approximately 32 thousand tons of aseptic packaging. The emission of pollutants during the recovery of the materials is minimal, handled in the absence of oxygen, without combustion, yielding an energy efficiency rate close to 90%.

The plasma project began in Brazil seven years ago when the former Plasma Group of the IPT (Institute of Technological Research of the University of Sao Paulo – USP) began exploring the development of technologies that could allow valuable metals and materials to be recovered from packaging.