Nearly 800 million square meters, one and a half Times as large as the lake of Constance: So much the surface of the polystyrene insulating panels, the gluing in this country on the facades. Since the oil crisis in the mid-Seventies, new buildings are insulated with the under the name Styrofoam well – known Material used to be only a few inches thick, often two-hand wide.

For the heating bill of the inhabitants of the is very beneficial. Who lives in a building with a good thermal protection is required according to the German energy Agency dena, on average, only one-third as much energy as residents ungedämmter houses.

A real Eco-product plates made of polystyrene, however, are not – they are produced from crude oil. In addition, they contained until recently a toxin: by 2015, the manufacturer gave the insulation material is the bromo-compound HBCD. It is designed to prevent the polystyrene is used to brand a torch when a fire breaks out. HBCD is suspected to affect the reproductive system.

Burn instead of Recycle

the HBCD is harmless, be burned discarded boards today in waste incineration plants. The bromine is destroyed-connection. Eco-friendly, but still says Philipp Sommer, an expert on circulation Economics at the German environmental aid. “The combustion of EPS insulation boards is ecologically seen anything other than useful. In the polystyrene to be very much crude oil is lost with the combustion irretrievably stuck,” he explains.

in Addition, indicates the summer, the fact that a part of the produced during the combustion of bromine could collect in the slag. “Since this is often used in road construction, is not to exclude a release of the Broms.”

New polystyrene from old insulation

It would be so much better to recycle the plastic. There is even already a technology: The Freising Fraunhofer-Institute for process engineering and packaging (IVV) has developed a method with the old, HBCD-contaminated Material with new, toxin-free insulation.

the Dämmmüll is first crushed and with the help of a solvent is liquefied. Foreign separated materials such as glue and plaster leftovers, so that they can be removed with a Filter. With a different solvent, the HBCD is separated then from the plastic. The solvents are recycled and can then be re-used.

“The remaining polystyrene has such a high quality that this new insulation material can be used to produce,” says Andreas Mäurer, head of process development for Polymer Recycling at the Fraunhofer IVV. The separated HBCD, in turn, can be used as a bromine source for other chemicals used.

According to Mäurer is required for the Separation of the foreign and harmful substances, as well as the Recycling of approximately seven Times less energy than the production of new polystyrene.

German environmental aid: state Recycling obligation to make

The researchers at Fraunhofer have the process of Recycling in its basic features, already about 15 years ago. However, only now it is being tested in practice: The polystyrene loop network-a network of European insulation material manufacturers, is currently preparing the construction of a pilot plant in the Dutch town of Terneuzen.

Why so late? “The concept of the circular economy today is much more widespread. Thus, the pressure on manufacturers to create a recycling solution is growing,” says Mäurer. Also for reasons of image, the industry is also looking stronger now with the recycling.

the name of The game but does not want to rely solely on a voluntary basis. “The policy should require the manufacturer’s perspective, a withdrawal system and to recycle the insulation materials at their own cost,” says summer.

The representation of the interests of the industry, the industrial Association for rigid foam (IVH), refers to the fact that the manufacturers are going to do anyway, to speed up the current Recycling initiatives and extend. In addition, the polystyrene producer with the planned pilot plant were already more than the manufacturers of other thermal protection materials. “A comparable solution to the polyster eneloop project is not for other insulation materials in sight,” says IVH spokeswoman Serena Small.

Currently still relatively low volumes of Waste

Still a little time to establish the necessary Recycling infrastructure. Because polystyrene is very durable, must be disposed of according to a study by the Fraunhofer Institute for building physics (IBP) and the research Institute for thermal insulation (FIW) until the middle of the next decade, large quantities of Dämmmüll. The scientists expect that by 2030 there will be about apply 20,000 to 30,000 tons, and in 2050, even 50,000 tons. Currently there are, according to IVH only around a thousand tons per year.

And it should be missing until then, however, Recycling capacity, at least for buildings to be energy-renovated, and still the possibility to amplify the existing layer of insulation. It is simply attached to another polystyrene plate on top of the existing. The disposal problem is not solve – postponed it at least until enough plants for the recycling of the material.

Sam Yoon has many years of experiences in journalism. He has covered such areas as information technology, science, sports and politics. Yoon can be reached at 82-2-6956-6698.