Chris Brough hopes he's on the cutting edge of plastics recycling. Or at least on the blending edge.
Brough works for a small Utah company, ReSyk Inc., that has developed a blending technology it claims can get around some of the limits of plastics recycling - the need to have a relatively clean stream of plastic coming in and to work with materials that are relatively homogenous.
ReSyk, in Brigham City, Utah, has developed a patented process it said can compound all kinds of incompatible plastics, along with contaminants like motor oil, labels, aluminum and copper, and produce a plastic that can be compression molded into a working, albeit not the best-looking, part.
ReSyk is a spinoff of Rotational Molding of Utah, also in Brigham City. An earlier version of the technology started in 1991 in the rotomolding industry as an attempt to recycle cross-linked polyethylene. The know-how has been improved to work with all sorts of plastics, Brough said.
``As far as the technology, everyone has the same question - how do you get polymers that don't like each other to bond to each other?'' said Brough, who is ReSyk's chief operating officer. ``It's a very new technology. We've found a way, without using chemicals or any other types of additives, to bond polymers.''
The company modifies the surface to bond the materials, but how it achieves that blending is its secret, Brough said. The process has been on the market only about 18 months, and currently it is used by only two companies.
But it has been attracting attention. It garnered a spot on R&D Magazine's R&D 100 Awards, in the September issue.
The material that emerges from the compounder moves slowly, like asphalt, he said.
``It comes out as a blob. I have yet to come up with a cool-sounding technical term.''
One of the companies using the technology, Recycled Plastic Products in Bluffdale, Utah, takes plastic scrap ranging from broken trash cans to plastic bags to motor-oil containers and mixes them together to produce plastic wheels for trash cans.
RPP, an 18-month-old company, added a second recycling line in October and revamped its production process to boost capacity dramatically, said Tony du Preez, vice president of operations. The firm can process as much as 24,000 pounds of recycled plastic a day, and uses 10 compression and transfer molding machines to produce parts, he said.
Besides the trash-can wheels, which are its major business, RPP also makes water-meter covers, bumpers for loading docks and other products where appearance does not matter much, he said.
There are limits on the technology's use, though.
It's not well-suited for applications in which bright color or aesthetics are important because it blends in so many different materials, Brough said: ``The aesthetics of it are not going to look quite as nice as virgin plastics.''
Also, steel or glass should not be processed because they wear on the machine, he said.
Mixing the plastics generally gives properties similar to what was fed in, he said. Electronic scrap that is heavy on ABS typically behaves like ABS, while household waste, with its mix of plastics, usually comes out similar to low density polyethylene, he said.
The other firm currently using the technology, Universal Industrial Sales Inc. in Lindon, Utah, makes plastic spacer blocks for highway guardrails from the casings of electrical wiring.
Brough said the company is talking with others interested in recycling agricultural scrap plastics and wood, or taking automotive shredder residue and turning it into something usable.
Electronics recycler RMD Technologies Inc. in San Diego is looking at the system as a way to turn its messy mix of plastics into products like water-meter covers or sprinkler box covers.
The company is thinking of using the process in its Yuma, Ariz., circuit-board demanufacturing facility, where it currently stockpiles plastic because it has a hard time marketing the material, said Rob Spence, RMD's chief executive officer.
Like many early-stage inventions, those working with it say they have met their share of resistance and outright disbelief. It has taken time to make it work, Brough said.
Utah entrepreneur Elmer Good developed an earlier version in 1991 and started working with ReSyk's parent company in 1995. ReSyk advanced the technology and in 1998, Good sold both technology and patent to ReSyk. In turn, ReSyk worked the bugs out and only began marketing it 11/2 years ago, mainly in Utah.
RPP's du Preez said he has found some skepticism in the marketplace, but feels his firm could be over the hump.
``We've dropped the ball, freaked people out and gone through the learning curve,'' he said. ``We've gotten to the point where we know we are doing it right. We just have to get the right people to say, `OK.' ''