With a joint research agenda for a circular plastics industry: “CCPE has achieved very good results in its first year”

Interview 23. March 2020

Shaping the change from a linear to a circular plastics economy together – with this objective, the five Fraunhofer Institutes IAP, ICT, IML, LBF and UMSICHT joined forces at the end of 2018 to form the Cluster Circular Plastics Economy CCPE. Under the leadership of Fraunhofer UMSICHT, they are researching technical and social innovations for the sustainable transformation of the entire plastics value chain. In an interview, the head of the cluster office, Dr.-Ing. Hartmut Pflaum, looks back on the first year of cooperation.

© Fraunhofer UMSICHT
Dr.-Ing. Hartmut Pflaum

What is the CCPE balance for 2019?

Hartmut Pflaum: We have achieved considerable success in our first year. We can already present scientific results: self-reinforced polylactic acid (PLA), bio-based additives, a test rig for environmental degradation tests, solutions for material and chemical recycling on a demonstration scale, a concept for digital product and electricity tracking, a Circular Readiness Level (CRL), Circular Assessment Tools and an innovation radar for new business models. We have also developed the Hackathon as a new format for product development.

Has Fraunhofer CCPE arrived in the plastics industry?

Hartmut Pflaum: Definitely. Our ecosystem currently comprises about 50 companies, associations and public institutions. We have also already received the first R&D orders from industry. Together with the Heilbronn-based L. Brüggemann GmbH & Co KG, Fraunhofer LBF is developing new stabilizer systems. They are intended to improve the properties of polyolefin recyclates, especially those made of polypropylene and polyethylene, and are groundbreaking in terms of using the potential of these plastics longer and more efficiently.

There will certainly be more orders in the future…

Hartmut Pflaum: We are working on this at various levels. Last year, for example, the project website www.ccpe.fraunhofer.de was launched. It clearly presents the services and focal points of the cluster and, of course, includes the contact details of the office – because in the cluster “one face to the customer along the whole value chain” applies. Our trade fair appearances play an important role. At the K in October 2019, we were able to make almost 200 new contacts and bind them further to the cluster. In addition, Prof. Eckard Weidner, head of the cluster and UMSICHT institute director, had the opportunity to present his work on the circular plastics industry to almost 500 participants at the CDU climate congress in Berlin at the end of September 2019.

In addition to these activities, CCPE is a member of various initiatives and working groups. These include the Circular Economy Initiative Germany, the EU-based Circular Plastic Alliance, the Round Table on Circular Value Creation of the Ministry of Economic Affairs of North Rhine-Westphalia, the North Rhine-Westphalia State Association in the German Chemical Industry Association, the VDI and kunststoffland NRW e.V.

These are quite different approaches and formats. How is the cluster organized?

Hartmut Pflaum: We are pursuing a common strategic research agenda with a matching virtual structure that is supported by all managers and employees of the institutes. In addition, our 50-strong team of around 60 employees has grown significantly together over the past year and is working successfully on an interdisciplinary basis. Incidentally, the Fraunhofer IVV is a new addition to the team, which has strengthened us since January 2020 with expertise in the areas of packaging, approval procedures and recycling.

Anyone who would like to get to know the work of the cluster and perhaps also become involved will have various opportunities to do so in 2020.

Hartmut Pflaum: Exactly. For instance, we are represented divers trade fairs this year. But we are also happy to exchange ideas with innovators of the Circular Economy outside the trade fairs – whether by e-mail or by telephone.