Winners of the European Inventor Award 2019 – Industry

Klaus FeichtingerKlaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl

Invention: Higher-performance plastic recycling

What started as a simple sketch led Austrian inventors and business men Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl to reshape plastic recycling. Their patented Counter Current technology means that a wider variety of plastic waste can now be turned into pellets, ready for industrial reuse and indistinguishable from new plastics.

Plastic recycling is complex and time consuming. Separating plastic from other waste can be a slow process and each type of plastic requires a specific method for reclaiming usable material. Feichtinger and Hackl have developed new technology capable of efficiently sorting and separating plastics, meaning less waste and more new plastics available for production. Their recycling machines, which can be as big as buses, move, sort and filter plastic matter, delivering a high-quality pellet at the end that will be used to create new products.

A key innovation has been Feichtinger and Hackl’s Counter Current technology.

Waste material enters an extruder and is rotated in the opposing direction to the flow of the extruder screw – in the same way as you would collect water from a stream, by putting a cup against the movement of the water. Thanks to this process, more waste material can be processed at faster rates than previously possible and at lower temperatures. This technology, based on an idea first quickly sketched out by Feichtinger, is a crucial part of the inventors’ recycling machines and is protected by several European patents.

The global plastic recycling market was worth almost EUR 32 billion in 2017 and is projected to grow around 6.5% per year to reach nearly EUR 50 billion by 2024. This expansion is due to increasing awareness of the environmental impact of plastics, as well as government regulations that encourage their re-use. The EU’s plastics strategy for example requires that all plastic packaging on the EU market will be recyclable by 2030, aiming to drastically reduce the need for virgin plastics. These developments are driving beverage makers and other businesses to invest in efficient recycling technologies like Feichtinger and Hackl’s.

Originally from Linz, Austria, Feichtinger and Hackl have spent nearly all their professional careers at EREMA, which they joined in 1993 and 1995 respectively. The Ansfelden based company was founded in 1983 and is today a today a world leader with plastic recycling machines in 108 countries. Feichtinger and Hackl are passionate about helping businesses apply technologies that contribute to the circular economy. Their objective is to make plastic recycling as simple and widespread as recycling paper or glass in the future, in this way changing profoundly how we use and reuse this ubiquitous material.

Source: EPO