Thursday, January 10th, 2013

For Optimum Plastics Recycling, Try Using a Supercomputer

The technology for recycling plastics has been growing more sophisticated and efficient for some time, but it’s still unlikely many of us think it would involve a supercomputer. It has happened: A supercomputer has been used to simulate what goes on in the process of separating materials, and produced super results.

The supercomputer involved belongs to the Barcelona Supercomputer Center (BSC) in Barcelona, Spain, and it has a name: MareNostrum. BCS and the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used MareNostrum to design a recycling facility. More specifically, they optimized the separation

of polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene(PP), two of the most common types of plastics, by using their respective densities. The materials were put into water and the action of a magnetic field causes the plastics to float at different heights, according to their densities.

MareNostrum-supercomputer, Barcelona, Spain

The MareNostrum supercomputer’s environmentally controlled glass enclosure is in the former Torre Girona chapel at the Technical University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo courtesy of Barcelona Supercomputing Center

MareNostrum was used to simulate the flow of water and plastics so scientists could see the path of plastic particles through they recycling process. The first simulation run showed the materials not separating as well as expected. The scientists then simulated a number of options and discovered the problem: The injection channel was creating too much turbulence. By changing the channel in another simulation they were able to achieve good separation efficiency.

Based on the simulations done using MareNostrum, researchers at Delft Technical University built an actual plant, which in operation proved the computer’s prediction was correct.

The project, Magnetic Sorting and Ultrasound Sensor Technologies for Production of High Purity Secondary Polyolefins from Waste, concluded on October 31, 2012. Funding came from the European Commission’s Environmental Technologies program for waste sorting.

For computer geeks and the just plain curious, IBM built MareNostrum in 2005 for the Spanish government. It was upgraded in 2006, more than doubling its peak performance 94.21 Teraflops (94.21 trillion operations per second). Upgraded again in December 2012, MareNostrum now has 48,448 Intel Sandy Bridge processors in 3,028 nodes, more than 94 TB of main memory, and 1.9 PB of disk storage, and is 36th pm the TOP500 list of fastest supercomputers in the world. There’s another upgrade coming in 2013.

How to Use a Supercomputer to Develop Plastics Recycling Technology

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