Düsseldorf, Germany — In a rousing address that was equal parts Greta Thunberg at her most demanding and Elon Musk at his most unbelievable — "It's financially insane to buy anything other than a Tesla," "full self- driving … next year, I think" — Albert Douer expounded the extraordinary vision for UBQ Materials.
UBQ, the name of a patented thermoplastic material, and UBQ Materials, the name of the Tel Aviv, Israel-based company that produces it, are about turning landfill garbage into a unique thermoplastic material.
Colombia-born Douer explained that the UBQ process is not a reason to stop recycling but another step in the path to a circular economy.
"People ask me, 'Should we stop recycling, because you guys can take it all?' and I say no, because if we can take a PET bottle economically and turn it back into food packaging, that is exactly what we should be doing," he said.
"Recycling is part of the solution. But it's not going to solve everything. And, literally, this is how I describe UBQ: We take the garbage out of the garbage. The stuff that no one else wants? That's what we take."
Douer said the landfill waste UBQ processes — after metals and minerals, which it cannot convert, are removed — is normally about 80-90 percent organic material. Plastics only ever account for somewhere between 10-20 percent of landfill waste, contrary to public perception.
"We're not taking a recycling route; we're actually converting [the waste] into a new material," said Douer, "and that new material, you can literally injection mold, 100 percent, we can make products out of UBQ."
Another benefit of the new material, Douer suggested, is that it makes product development easier because it has characteristics that make it compatible with different material classes.
"I used to make polystyrene cups. When I wanted to make PET cups, I had to change all my equipment: new extruders for the thermoformer, new tooling. UBQ is unique because its characteristics make it actually compatible with other classes. So you can actually use existing equipment to make your product far more environmental, because you're able to drop in one bit at a time, from 1 percent to 2 percent to 3 percent to 20 percent to 50 percent, depending on your product and without buying a new extruder.
"You can also, of course, in the future, change your tool or change your extruders so that it's compatible [with 100 percent UBQ]," he said.
Douer describes the process as "the circular economy on steroids." At his most Musk-like, he suggested that UBQ was actually carbon-negative because it stopped the development of methane from degradation of landfill waste.
"When we did our first LCA [life cycle analysis], something really funny happened. And it was something that all of the certifiers weren't used to, because their mathematical models didn't allow negative numbers of these things. And all of a sudden, they do the numbers for UBQ. And they say, 'Hey, you're not emitting carbon; you're preventing carbon emissions.'
"So, believe it or not, on a 20-year time frame, because of the methane emissions all of those organics cause, we're actually talking almost negative 12 tonnes of CO2 for every tonne of UBQ produced. So we're talking about a product that is extremely, extremely Plan A carbon negative."
Holding up a floor mat, Douer stressed the credibility of his offering: "This is a floor mat. This was done for an automotive manufacturer that you guys will know: Mercedes.
"And all of it started with a crazy idea that everybody thought would never be successful. And then, little by little, it's an idea that got believers. Tato Bigio, my co-CEO, was the first believer, and he drew me in. And then, little by little, we were joined by people like Vecoplan, like our suppliers, they believed in us. And today, we have customers with us. And I have to also thank them, because believe me, the fact that a company like Mercedes would be willing to take a risk on a material that it hadn't heard of before … these are the things that allow change."
Douer's iconoclastic address was something of a scene-stealer at an Oct. 21 press event that was actually held to demonstrate Vecoplan's VAZ 2000-series shredding machines for recycling. But the Bad Marienberg, Germany-based machinery manufacturer has been a partner of UBQ since 2013.
"Our cooperation began back in 2013, when we helped with the pilot plant in Israel," said Martina Schmidt, head of the recycling and waste division at Vecoplan.
The Vecoplan announcement was part of K's Circular Economy Forum.
In December 2021, UBQ Materials commissioned Vecoplan to supply the mechanical processing and storage technology for its manufacturing plant in Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands. The UBQ plant, which is scheduled to become operational in 2023, will have an annual production capacity of 80,000 tonnes.