SmartFactory KL’s ReCircE Project to Develop Recycling Method by AI

Kaiserslautern, Germany – An Industrie 4.0 non-profit association, The Technologie-Initiative SmartFactory KL e.V., partnered with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) to carry out the project ‘Digital Lifecycle Record for the Circular Economy’ or simply ‘ReCircE’.

It aims to develop a comprehensive recycling method, especially for plastics using artificial intelligence. The project is part of DFKI's AI for the Environment and Sustainability (DFKI4planet) Competence Center funded by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) under the ‘Beacons of AI for the Environment, Climate, Nature, and Resources’ program. One element in the project is the digital product pass, which is designed to provide transparency along the entire chain of reusable materials in highly developed products to facilitate separation and plastic recycling.

Sorting technology for the recycling of plastics using near-infrared spectrometry can detect the most common polymers and then sort them automatically, however, it doesn't work for the plastics built into complex products which may also contain harmful substances. Hence manufacturers, for quality or cost considerations, leave recycled products on the shelves and choose instead to work with new plastic granulates. In theory, the molecular chains of plastics can be used up to 20 times. Understanding the need of improvement for the recycling process, the concept behind digital product pass combines the potential of machine learning with the sensor-based sorting methods. This is where ReCircE comes in.

Participants in the ReCircE project include: DFKI, TU Darmstadt, Fraunhofer IWKS, the GreenDelta company, and Papier-Mettler in Rhineland-Palatinate. Fraunhofer IWKS (research facility for materials recycling and resource strategies) equipped with a sorting plant, can use infrared technologies, 3-D object structures, and AI to understand waste composition and process the molten plastic so that in the future, it breaks down into its respective fractions. The goal is to produce four or five pure types whose quality is comparable to that of primary plastics. The Papier-Mettler company has agreed to bring the new process to the test in practice. The recycled granulate is intended for later use in high-quality industrial films. The industry will benefit from the knowledge gained from ReCircE research through the SmartFactory KL. The circle of partner groups prepares to further improve and apply the technology in their vision for future production level 4.

"Now, AI is entering the picture through this project: We aim to use sensor data and machine learning methods to train the plant," explained, Christiane Plociennik, Project Leader - Innovative Factory Systems research department, DFKI, on putting the project into practice.

"Resource efficiency is important to companies, but also to our vision for the production of tomorrow," opined Martin Ruskowski, Head - Innovative Factory Systems department, DFKI and Chairman (Executive Board), SmartFactory-KL. "A digital product pass hopefully has the potential to enable all materials to be recycled in the future."

Image Source: Technologie-Initiative SmartFactory KL e.V.


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