Expanded polypropylene: industrial uses and sustainability

expanded polypropylene

From industrial pieces to commercial objects and packaging, expanded polypropylene is the silent hero behind a number of commonplace items found across the globe.

A closed-cell bead foam material produced from polypropylene, expanded polypropylene has conquered many industries and markets because of its extraordinary properties: it is lightweight, provides outstanding thermal and acoustic insulation as well as shock and vibration absorption. 

On top of this, it is resistant to water and chemicals, it is durable, easy to cut and mould. Additionally, and despite plastic’s bad reputation, EPP foam is sustainable, 100% recyclable and presents a low carbon footprint in its production.

Curious about how industrial applications are benefiting from the use of EPP foam? Let us guide you through the multiple possibilities of expanded polypropylene and how this material has revolutionized many sectors.

What are the main uses of expanded polypropylene in industry?

It’s safe to say that expanded polypropylene is one of the most commonly used materials on the planet. 

A result of decades of research, this plastic foam is a key component in a number of industries:

  • Protective and industrial packaging, representing an appropriate solution because of its great shock absorption capabilities and thermal insulation (great for food preservation), as well as being lightweight
  • Automotive parts such as door panels, headrests or seats, among others. 
  • Construction elements including thermal insulation and waterproofing projects 
  • Consumer goods manufacturing, from furniture to children’s toys
  • Technical parts, including the HVACR sector, where it’s used in many elements, from ventilation boxes to hot water tanks and ducting.

expanded polypropylene

How sustainable is expanded polypropylene?

There are many reasons why expanded polypropylene can be considered a sustainable material. Taking a full life-cycle perspective, this material presents a low carbon footprint during its manufacturing process and allows for multiple energy-reduction processes guided by its low weight and durability.

In addition to this, EPP foam stands out as an environmentally-friendly option for the following two reasons:

Recycling process

Expanded polypropylene is a 100% recyclable mono-material: As opposed to other alternative materials, it can be fully reincorporated into new products or resources given the right recycling actions are enforced.

The truth is that the recycling process for EPP takes 91% fewer resources compared to other materials such as paper, which is typically regarded as an easier material to recycle. 

There are two options for this process:

  • The physical recycling of EPP is economic and efficient and takes place by crushing expanded polypropylene and turning it into new products. The resulting materials are limited, however, to certain uses such as construction (and not suitable for food packaging, for instance).
  • An alternative process takes place in dissolution recycling. While it’s more complicated and costly, it keeps this material’s styrene molecules intact, so that it preserves this material’s original qualities.

How expanded polypropylene helps achieve a circular economy 

As defined by the European Parliament, circular economy is a production and consumption paradigm that aims at minimizing waste by extending the life cycles of products through practices such as recycling, leasing, sharing or reusing products.

Because EPP is 100% recyclable and reusable, it provides companies with the possibility of joining circular economy models. 

Knauf circular® is such an example: through our circular economy program, we provide on-site collection services and processing capabilities to guarantee EPP is given a new life.

What are the main uses of EPP foam?

EPP foam is easily shaped using moulds, thus facilitating the generation of recurrent, automatic manufacturing processes while giving companies the chance to develop complex and detailed pieces and items.

Because of this material’s specific features outlined above, there are two main industries where the potential of expanded polypropylene is maximized:

Uses in protective packaging

EPP foam is extremely popular for packaging manufacturers because of its unique combination of lightweight and protective properties.

Additionally, it can be incorporated into custom packaging solutions.

Uses in the HVAC sector

The outstanding packaging insulation facilitated by expanded polypropylene has turned it into an ideal solution for technical parts in the HVAC sector. As such, it helps manufacturers minimize energy losses, improving their equipment’s performance and sustainability.

Expanded polypropylene is used to provide insulation in duct piping, heaters, ventilation and refrigeration systems, air-conditioners, pumps, filters, and motors. 

Learn more about EPP here

The Knauf Appliances range of solutions in expanded polypropylene

At Knauf Appliances, we’ve worked for decades in the generation of efficient and sustainable EPP parts through molded product design and manufacturing processes in the following applications:

  • HVAC components: for over 10 years, we’ve been in charge of designing, developing and producing EPP technical and protective items for the HVAC sector.
  • Protective packaging: we design and implement custom packaging solutions through our Total Pack methodology and incorporating eco-design parameters
  • Automotive parts including bumpers, car seats and other interior components, as well as protective systems, cushions and padding elements.

All in all, expanded polypropylene has become our friend in the manufacturing of durable, efficient and sustainable technical pieces and packaging. At the same time, we’ve worked to stretch this material’s potential in order to meet our customers’ needs in each project. 

Learn more about the use of expanded polypropylene in our free ebook ‘Technical manual about expanded foam in the industry’

 

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