The building and construction sector in Europe is, with a market share of 23% and 8.3 million tonnes of plastics, the second largest user of plastics after the packaging sector. Plastic pipes have become the material of choice for the building industry, in particular in the growing market for building renovation. Today the market share of plastic pipes is higher than that of metal pipes and has reached 56%. It is forecast that this market share will continue increasing whilst the market share of metal pipes will steadily decrease. The sector is fundamentally concerned with long-lasting products, which may well be in place for 40 years before they require replacement. There is little experience of practical recycling of plastic building products on a large scale, about 3,500 tonnes of scrap plastic pipes are disposed of annually in landfill due to the use of non-recyclable plastics.
The building and construction community in Europe faces the challenge of reducing the environmental impact from waste materials and meeting two EC Directives concerning this topic – the EU Landfill Directive (1999/31/EC) and the EU Waste Framework Directive (2006/12/EC).
Under floor heating, radiator heating and sanitary plumbing systems are the key hot and cold water pipe applications. In Europe 46% of such pipes are manufactured from non-recyclable PEX or PEX/AL.
These pipes are multilayer pipes where the inner and outer layers inhibit scaling and corrosion and the centre layer (EVOH or Al) provides a necessary oxygen barrier layer.
By offering an environmentally-compatible plastic pipe for under-floor heating, radiator heating and sanitary plumbing systems, it will minimise costs of waste management and result in a high quality product with fail safe operational and economic benefits.
The aim is to replace non-recyclable plastic pipes used by the building and construction community with an environmentally friendly pipe that meets EU Directives concerning landfill and waste management through the development of a universal and flexible low-cost plumbing and heating pipe system, which uses nanoparticle technology.
The Nanoflex project will deliver a thermoplastic pipe without PEX and an integral aluminium layer in order to allow 100% of pipe scrap to be recycled. The product will consist of innovative nano-composites to provide an oxygen barrier and re-defined wrapping technologies to provide strength and flexibility.
The focus for the project was in compounding, distributive mixing and exfoliation of nanoparticles. This research has enabled the creation of specific polymers, tape extrusion, stretching technology, pipe extrusion and wrapping technology. The resultant Nanoflex pipe will be subjected to a range of testing to prove compliance with the relevant ISO standards.
Economical cost/benefit analysis and validation has also been undertaken and compared to current state of art solutions.
Sanitary or plumbing systems, radiator heating and under-floor heating are the key hot and cold water pipe applications accounting for over 1,700 million metres of new pipe installations in Europe, of which 56% (at least 960 million metres) are plastic pipes. The major growth areas for the hot and cold water market is in Central Europe followed by Eastern Europe (Poland, Czech Republic) and Southern Europe (Spain) with a forecast growth of between 6% and 8%. 46% of these pipes are made of non-recyclable pipes, hence there is a great potential within Europe for the use of a fully recyclable alternative giving the following benefits:
- Material that meets EU Directives concerning waste materials and landfill.
- Reduced landfill and subsequent CO₂ emissions.
- Universal pipe system for use in hot and cold water systems.
- Labour and material savings for installers due to ease of use.
- Potential secondary markets in the automotive, solar, sprinkler, and catering industries.
The NanoFlex concept was realised through three years of scientific research and technological development of nanoparticle compounds, designed for use with the next generation of extrusion and wrapping technologies.
Two pipe structures that meet the objectives of the NanoFlex technology have been identified.
The prototype pipe has been subjected to testing at Kiwa. Results show that the pipe satisfies the required performance requirements with regards to oxygen permeability, bending and kink resistance, and resistance to heating (longitudinal reversion).
It is anticipated that within 5 years of the end of the project a 7% share of the European market is achievable for under-floor heating pipes, 3% of the European market for radiator heating and 2% of the market for sanitary or plumbing systems.
Original estimates showed that the Nanoflex pipe can be produced economically, enabling plumbing and heating contractors can offer a new, fully-recyclable product to their customers.
A potential secondary market is applications for solar panels, fire sprinkler systems, automotive and catering industries. For each of these applications the small diameter of the Nanoflex pipe is an advantage.