Connecting Sustainability and Innovation
The most recent developments in sustainability and innovation in the PVC cables sector were debated at the 3rd PVC4Cables Conference in Bologna, Italy. Interconnection, digitalisation, energy transition, sustainable mobility, smart cities… all the major challenges that will characterise the near future are connected by an invisible fil-rouge: wires and cables.
‘Connecting sustainability and innovation’ was therefore the theme chosen for the third PVC4Cables Conference, which took place yesterday in Bologna (Italy). The conference brought together around 140 European operators in the PVC cable value chain to discuss the state-of-the-art and future trends in the sector.
“We decided to focus on the themes of innovation and sustainability” – said Carlo Ciotti, PVC4Cables Spokesperson – to show how the PVC cable sector, which has been considered mature and rather static for many years, has instead ample opportunities for development and renewal. This is demonstrated by the mostimportant innovations in formulations, safety and opportunities for outlets in new markets presented at our PVC4Cables Conference.”
If it is true, as confirmed by Paolo Arcelli, Director of Plastic Consult, that PVC cables have slightly lost ground in terms of market share in Europe (from 46% to 40% in 2021 compared to 2017), it is also true that volumes remained stable in absolute terms. And in the existing difficult geopolitical and economic situation, new opportunities could open up through the renewal of the building stock towards a growing use of smarthome technologies; and technical developments of PVC cables, to seize opportunities in optic fibres and telecom cables.
Gianluca Sarti, R&D Manager of Reagens, spoke about the new formulations that allow production of PVC cables with very low emissions of acidic smoke in case of fire. He underlined how the research work and tests carried out in recent years has allowed PVC cables to achieve Class Bca according to the Construction Products Regulation (CPR – Regulation (EU) n. 305/11).
Through a study on comparative testing of PVC cables and halogen-free cables regarding gas emission toxicity, Camillo Cardelli, Senior Technologist, I-Pool, showed that smoke toxicity of virtually all materials is almost identical, within the margin of error. Modern plastics generally produce the same types and levels of carcinogenic volatile organic carbons (VOCs) as do wood products in fires. In addition, acidity is inadequate as a representation of smoke toxicity. Although smoke corrosivity (or acidity) may have some relevance to property damage, it has no correlation with life safety or even with smoke toxicity. The use of acidity as the basis is incorrect, since the most common toxicant (CO, carbon monoxide) is not acidic and not considered. Tests conducted on innovative PVC4Cables compounds gave an excellent final cable in terms of low smoke (Class Bca d0 s1b) and low emission of the killer gas CO. The reduction of smoke density is closely correlated with low CO production.
The acidity and toxicity of fumes were also addressed by Maddalena Pezzani, Technical Director of L.S. Fire, and Luca Ermini, Technical Director of LAPI Laboratories, who analysed advantages and disadvantages of standards and methodologies to measure these parameters for PVC cables.
At academic level, R&D might open new perspectives for PVC cables. Lorenzo Marinai and Sara Haveriku presented their thesis research done at the University of Pisa concerning new resins and new eco-friendly bio-plasticisers for fire-safe PVC cables compounds. Laura Mazzocchetti, Associate Professor, Department of Industrial Chemistry, University of Bologna, explored the potential of PVC jackets for charger cables in electric vehicles.
In terms of sustainability, Ettore Nanni, Chair of the Sustainable Use of Additives Committee of VinylPlus® and Vincent Stone, VinylPlus Technical and Environmental Affairs Senior Manager, presented respectively the Additive Sustainability Footprint® (ASF) Methodology and the VinylPlus® Product Label and Supplier Certificates for Compounders and Additives manufacturers, developed in the framework of VinylPlus sustainability commitment. The ASF methodology allows users to proactively assess and promote the sustainable production and use of PVC additives throughout entire product lifecycles, while the Product Label and the Supplier Certificates will help companies to contribute to sustainable development through certified and traceable products.
Recycling is a key element for the sustainability of PVC cables. Daniele Redaelli, Italian Regional Representative of Recovinyl® highlighted how, thanks to the collection and recycling schemes set up in the framework of VinylPlus, 1.5 million tonnes of PVC from cables were recycled since 2000, saving close to 3 million tonnes of CO₂ emissions. Nevertheless, PVC cable recycling registered a significant decrease in recent years. This was partially due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to Brexit, which caused a reduction in PVC cables exported to the UK for recycling. In addition, even if PVC cables produced in Europe today do not contain SVHC, regulatory uncertainties and constraints at the EU level concerning the potential presence of legacy additives in old PVC cables presented a strong disincentive for recyclers. Promoting PVC cables without SVHC, which have been produced in Europe for many years, is of paramount importance to revert this trend.
Furthermore, increasing the recycling of PVC cables would bring significant benefits also in economic terms. The 2022 Costs-Benefits Analysis (CBA) on cable recycling presented by Alessandro Marangoni, Chief Executive Officer of Althesys, confirms a net benefits balance of recycling in France, Germany and Italy. Comparing recycling with landfill, benefits are higher in all countries and for all kinds of cables. In the case of incineration, the rise of power and gas prices has reduced net benefits of recycling (still positive, though), particularly for countries with higher energy prices (Italy), due to energy recovery (electricity and heat) during incineration. However, the possible future inclusion of incineration under the ETS system could modify the results of CBA, improving the net benefits of recycling compared to incineration.
Closing the conference, Zdenek Hruska, PVC4Cables Project Manager, emphasised the concrete results achieved by the PVC4Cables Platform in just a few years since its creation in 2017 “thanks to the collaboration among PVC value chain, converters, industry experts, universities and research bodies, that make it possible to stimulate R&D, connecting innovation and sustainability.”