How do you get an old MDF board into a water filter? And no, this is not the beginning of a silly joke. It is the beginning of a new way to recycle a so far non-recyclable wood product. We adapted a standard tubular furnace for start-up Act&Sorb. And thus played our role in their trajectory from idea to execution.
The answer to the question: by converting MDF into activated carbon. A product that is used for filtering, among other things.
Act&Sorb is a start-up that develops upcycling technologies for residue streams that are not or difficult to recycle. The first waste stream it tackles is Medium Density Fibreboard. Better known by its abbreviation MDF – popular for kitchens, casings and floors.
MDF is made by pressing narrow wood fibers together and gluing them into boards. The advantage of this process is that it makes unsuitable types of wood suitable for various applications. MDF is thus an important link in the sustainable use of wood. But it is the same combination of glue and wood that makes it impossible to recycle these fibers. Well, made. Because co-founder Kenny Vanreppelen (photo below) is about to change that with Act&Sorb.
“I built up the theoretical knowledge during my PhD. Then we started to test that theory in practice on a lab scale”.
The chosen process: carbonization. The machine: a tubular furnace. Such an oven heats the material, while it is pulled through the tube by means of a rotating screw. “For those first tests a standard tube furnace was sufficient. In the sense that it became clear to us that we could continue along the same path.
“But in order to attract investors, we had to scale up to a continuous and repeatable process. To do that, we needed a machine builder who could convert that tubular furnace to suit our way of working. Someone who could think with us and provide solutions to the problems we were facing,” says Kenny. “So the other two co-founders and I asked around in our network. And that’s how we ended up at VINTIV.
Uses and abuses
“We had two questions. One: integrate our innovation in an existing machine. In that area, we had a clear view of what we wanted. Two: Can you overcome these are practical stumbling blocks ? Because it was a standard tubular furnace, certain problems arose. The input, for example, went rather awkwardly,” says Kenny. “So not only did we use that machine to test certain ideas, but we also misused it to identify failures, specifically related to MDF.
“VINTIV unleashed their knowledge on these problems. We can overcome that problem in this way. A serious improvement is possible here, if we are allowed to do so. And that is how we came to solutions together, based on our process knowledge on their knowledge of mechanics and drive techniques”.
“It is fascinating to see how differently they look at a machine than I do. In every decision they are already busy with other aspects like maintenance for example”, concludes Kenny. “That thinking along and thing forward is an enormous asset for me. As a start-up I’m constantly busy with everything: legal topcis, talking to investors, production… Only then to fully focus on the technical side. The right partners are important in that process. Only if the support is good, we can quickly take the next step”.
What exactly did we do for Act&Sorb? To start with, our mechanical developer took a close look at their pipe furnace and processes. Then we proposed a list of optimizations based on that. Which we implemented after agreement.
- We extended the sleeve of the input screw and optimized the input of the MDF.
- We replaced the roller drive system with a chain drive. In this way, the slipping of the drive was a thing of the past.
- We placed custom heat shields on the new infeed tube. This way there was a more constant temperature.
- We replaced the bearings and seals with alternatives that were more resistant to the heat.
- We adjusted the output to reduce material loss.
- We built the specific IP of Act&Sorb into the tubular furnace.
As a start-up, are you also looking for a machine builder to take the next step together? Please contact us.