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On the fridge recycling front line

URT Umwelt- und Recyclingtechnik GmbH (also known as URT Recycling Technology) of Germany is celebrating its 25th anniversary. In 2020, the e-scrap processing solutions provider has managed to build four fridge recycling lines, despite the Coronavirus crisis.

The plant engineering company from Karlstadt in central Germany is an expert in the niche WEEE market, not only as a result of its many years of experience but also through its constant plant innovations. In order to remain technologically up to date, URT participates in standardisation groups.

Development and research in the field of plant engineering is part of the daily routine for the URT team. Main research targets are the reduction of opex and capex, increasing plant availabilities, higher levels of automation and plant monitoring. While other plant constructors are trying to open up ever more fields of business, URT concentrates on the core competence of plants for the processing of electrical and electronic scrap.

URT is an expert in the following fields of plant engineering:

  • Refrigerator recycling
  • Small domestic appliance and IT recycling
  • Large domestic appliance recycling
  • Printed circuit board recycling
  • Toner cartridge recycling
  • LCD recycling
  • CRT recycling
  • Sorting of WEEE plastics

Active around the globe 

Despite the Coronavirus crisis, URT has built four fridge recycling plants in 2020. Two of the facilities are for treating fridges containing volatile hydrocarbons (VHCs), with online incineration of the blowing agent pentane; the others recover all kinds of blowing agent. In total, URT has built more than 50 refrigerator disposal plants worldwide.

To achieve continuous success in this field, URT’s systems are constantly undergoing further development and its processes are adapted to the latest laws and standards.

Cost-efficient

To recover all kinds of blowing agent, URT uses an activated carbon adsorption unit. The activated carbon adsorbs the blowing agents, which are released during the shredding process and the post-treatment of the polyurethane foam from the gas stream. Once the carbon is loaded, the gases are desorbed by hot steam.  A high air volume flow in the fridge recycling plant ensures the collection of all the blowing agents released from the polyurethane foams.

The plant is very efficient in terms of operating costs, thanks in part to the low electrical connection power and the lack of any need for nitrogen. The system separates the water from the blowing agents. This saves disposal costs and the recovery rate (EN 50625) can be easily evaluated.

Selective treatment

In Europe, CFCs have not been used in the production of cooling devices since 1995. A common characteristic of all the substitute cooling and blowing agent materials used since then has been their flammability. For this reason, all treatment plants must be fire- and explosion-proof.

Various concepts have already been successfully developed by URT. In the case of new plants, it is quite reasonable to adopt different treatments for VHC and VFC end-of-life cooling devices as the operating costs can be reduced considerably. Owing to the selective operation of VHCs, there are no costs for the disposal of the gases as the VHCs are burned in the plant. The resulting energy can be used directly; the heating of factory halls, for example, is ideal for this.

Robot check

No nitrogen is required for explosion protection in treating the fridge unit, thus dramatically reducing opex. To ensure only VHC-containing fridges enter the plant, URT has developed a robot that analyses the gases in the polyurethane foam. The robot detects each fridge door and main fridge unit.

A cooling device recycling plant operated in line with this concept was installed at ALBA Electronics Recycling GmbH in the first quarter of 2017 and has already treated around a million fridges.

Automation and monitoring

Proper monitoring is required in order to fulfil the obligations under the WEEELABEX and corresponding CENELEC standards (EN 50625). As manual evaluation of all necessary data demands substantial effort, URT is developing automated data collection systems. Scaling of input and output fractions, meanwhile, is state-of-the-art at URT plants.

Further development steps include the detection of blowing agents using automated measurement by robots. With simultaneous allocation of cooling units into size categories, expected values for the blowing agents can be determined. Thus, the plant operator can continuously check the effectiveness of blowing agent recovery.

Meanwhile, the reduction of staff in compressor treatment is the subject of a research and development project at URT.

Slow rotating shears reduce dust  

URT fridge recycling plants achieve throughputs of up to 200 devices per hour. Domestic and side-by -side fridges are shredded in a single step using a four-shaft shredder. By using slow rotating rotor shears to shred the fridges, less dust is produced. One knife set can shred up to 300 000 household fridges.

AAA fridges in particular are isolated with VIP models. The shredder processes the VIPs, releasing the fine powder. URT plants are equipped with a dust-binding step and specific dust filters to capture the powder. To minimise maintenance downtime, URT plants have a well-planned maintenance and cleaning concept.

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