An Experimental Approach to Determining the Average Diffusion Coefficient of Volatile Components in Polymer Waste Materials
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One of the major challenges in recycling plastics is the removal of undesired volatile components from the polymeric phase,
which may reduce process efficiency and negatively affect product quality. Accordingly, the recycling industry employs a broad range of degassing techniques, the efficiency
of which often depends on the diffusion coefficient?a measure of the mass transport of volatile components in polymeric phases. The aim of this study was to develop a practically
feasible experimental approach using thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) to determine the average diffusion coefficient of volatile components in polymer waste materials.
First, the TGA method was validated with a pressure decay apparatus (PDA) using predefined binary material mixtures: Thin sheets were pressed from virgin high-density polyethylene
(HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) and deliberately saturated with toluene in a sorption experiment. These saturated samples were then used in TGA and PDA desorption experiments at
60 °C, 80 °C and 100 °C, which yielded similar results with an average difference of 7.4% for the HDPE-toluene system and 14.7% for the PP toluene system. When validated,
TGA was employed to determine the diffusion coefficient of volatile components in post-industrial plastic waste melt at a temperature of 220 °C. The proposed method contributes
to the understanding of diffusion-based mass transport in polymer waste materials and provides a key parameter for model-based process control and optimization. In practice,
the diffusion coefficient results can be used to predict the degassing performance of an extrusion process in the mechanical recycling of plastic waste.