Meet the partner: Gergana Dimitrova from Fraunhofer izm

Gergana Dimitrova is a researcher and project manager at Fraunhofer IZM. Fraunhofer IZM is the overall project coordinator of INCREACE. 

Can you shortly introduce your role in the INCREACE project?

My name is Gergana and I have been working as a researcher and project manager at Fraunhofer IZM in Berlin since 2013. What I find most exciting about my work is finding innovative solutions to concrete circular economy challenges along the value chain of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). Over the past ten years, I have acquired, managed and implemented large international multi-stakeholder projects paving the way towards a circular plastics value chain, such as the European research projects within the Horizon framework CloseWEEE, PolyCE and now INCREACE.

How did Fraunhofer IZM get involved in the INCREACE project?

Fraunhofer IZM has a long track record as initiator and coordinator of Horizon projects on the circular plastic value chain for EEE products. The fruitful cooperation in the previous projects (CloseWEEE, PolyCE) allowed us to solve many challenges related to the recycling of plastics from waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and the use of recycled plastics in new electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). Despite the various requirements the recycled plastics had to fulfil, such as mechanical properties, aesthetics, heat resistance, water resistance, etc., we managed to significantly increase the recycled plastics content to 75% recycled plastics, a 45% increase compared to previous product versions.

However, there are still many technical, economic and regulatory challenges that need to be solved before we can use recycled polymers in more challenging applications (e.g. medical, food-contact, high flame resistance etc.) As with previous projects, we set up INCREACE following the same philosophy that we need a value chain approach to solve complex challenges. Our INCREACE team is composed of experts who cover all relevant steps of the plastic value chain and have a long track record of solving demanding practical cases in the EEE sector. The industrial partners are supported by excellent research organisations with complementary specialisations. The project partners are leaders in their respective fields, are used to forming long-term interdisciplinary and international alliances and are therefore well positioned to tackle missing segments in the plastics recycling value chain and solve technical and societal challenges.

How do you see the added value of INCREACE for Fraunhofer IZM?

Solving complex challenges related to the use of recycled plastics will give us enormous knowledge on how to push the technological, regulatory, economic and behavioural boundaries of the current plastics ecosystem and how to pave the way towards a circular, autonomous and resilient plastics value chain. The impact of the knowledge and results generated will be scaled up through targeted inputs to standardisation work (e.g. definition of recyclates, traceability and verification methods, quality control, characterisation of suitability for specific applications, etc.), policy making and active and inclusive engagement of all relevant stakeholders as actors of the circular plastic transition. We will apply methods from circular product, service, business and ecosystem design to develop a robust framework for the design of product service systems and circular value propositions for each of the INCREACE business cases. All these activities are of high strategic importance for Fraunhofer to keep building partnerships that can result into further spin-off projects. Moreover, working closely with the EEE industry and solving together design FOR and FROM recycling challenges will help us stay at the forefront of eco-design of energy-related products in the EU and worldwide.

What is the role of Fraunhofer IZM in the INCREACE project?

Fraunhofer IZM is the overall coordinator of the INCREACE project. Our main aim as coordinator is to ensure a sound management of all INCREACE technical, administrative and financial activities, an effective communication flow with the European Commission and amongst the partners and to monitor the project progress and achievements as well as the timely submission of project deliverables.

In terms of content, we are leading the work that contributes to a clear terminology that unambiguously defines recycling and recyclates and provides a harmonised assessment and verification of recycled content that can be followed by all stakeholders involved in the value chain. In addition, Fraunhofer IZM will quantify the environmental impact of the innovative INCREACE approach through a life cycle assessment.

We will build on the learnings from the PolyCE Circular Product Design Guidelines and support Pezy Group with the development of practical design guidelines for different recycling technologies that will enable designers to increase the share of recycled plastics in their products, evaluate the sustainability of their existing concepts and suggest improvement options.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of the project?

By the end of the project, we will show that focused actions along the entire value chain can effectively lead to increased uptake of recycled polymers in added value applications, such as food contact, medical applications, electrostatic discharge (ESD), UL94 flammability and high-tech plastic components in EEE.

Through the combination of different recycling technologies, INCREACE will provide industry partners with traceable recycled polymers of high quality. Traceability and verification of recycled plastic content will be implemented by the GreenToken technology developed by SAP. Project partners will apply advanced data-driven optimisation of the sorting process and quality control to deliver the necessary depolluted and separated fractions and traceability information to recyclers. People and communities will be integrated into the process through active engagement in the circular plastics transition when it comes to bringing devices back in the material loop and when purchasing new (sustainable) devices. This loop will be integrated into a systemic framework analysing economic, regulatory, material and technological aspects of the plastics industry as a whole.

This way, INCREACE will generate strong added value through international cooperation along the plastics value chain and will promote international and interdisciplinary cooperation between key actors in the plastics sector.

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