Press release | 20.6.2019
Vienna/Munich, 20 June 2019 - The European Patent Office (EPO) today honoured Austrian inventors and businessmen Klaus Feichtinger and Manfred Hackl with the European Inventor Award 2019 in the "Industry" category at a ceremony held in Vienna. Together, they are reshaping plastic recycling. With the help of their technology, more kinds of plastic waste can be recycled. What is more, the resulting pellets produced by their machines are indistinguishable from new plastics and can be used to make new products.
"Feichtinger and Hackl have dedicated almost their entire careers to innovation in plastic recycling," said EPO President António Campinos. "They have increased efficiency in plastics recycling, which is great news for sustainability in business and shows how innovation in industry can help to address environmental and societal issues too."
Today's European Inventor Award ceremony at the Wiener Stadthalle was attended by some 600 guests from the fields of intellectual property, politics, business, science and academia. The Award is presented annually by the EPO to distinguish outstanding inventors from Europe and around the world who have made an exceptional contribution to society, technological progress and economic growth. The finalists and winners in five categories (Industry, Research, SMEs, Non-EPO countries and Lifetime achievement) were selected by an independent international jury from a pool of hundreds of inventors and teams of inventors put forward for this year's award.
Plastic recycling has been a longstanding issue for industry as it is far more complex than processing materials such as glass and metals - which basically just need sorting, cleaning and melting for reuse. Each type of plastic polymer requires a specific method for claiming salvageable material. As a consequence, out of the 58 million tonnes of plastic waste produced in the EU every year, only 30% is recycled. The Austrian inventors Feichtinger and Hackl are addressing these challenges by developing and building state-of-the-art recycling machines. These machines move, sort and filter plastic matter, delivering high-quality pellets at the end that can be used to create new products.
A core component of their recycling machines - and the basis for their nomination for the European Inventor Award 2019 - is Feichtinger and Hackl's Counter Current technology. It works whereby waste material enters an extruder and is rotated in the opposite direction to the flow of the extruder screw. Hackl explains that "it's a bit like taking a beaker, when you're sitting by a stream, and then filling it, either in the direction of flow, then the cup is only partly filled, or against the direction of flow - then the cup is completely full the whole time." Thanks to this method, more waste material can be processed at faster rates than previously possible, and at lower temperatures. Their approach thus makes plastic waste a more valuable resource.
What started as a simple sketch led the inventors to reshape plastic recycling. "Our machines recycle plastic into pellets without any harm to the environment," says Feichtinger. "These pellets are used afterwards to produce new, everyday products," which means their machines are also promoting the circular economy in their industry. Hackl adds that the "patented technology is now used in our machines all over the world, delivering higher output, better quality and an increase in process stability."
The Austrian's technology is commercialised through EREMA, a subsidiary of EREMA Group that Hackl runs as CEO and where Feichtinger, who recently stepped down as fellow CEO, continues to contribute his know-how as a manager in the area of intellectual property and new technologies. Today, more than 6 000 of EREMA's recycling systems are in operation around in 108 countries. Their machines produce more than 14.5 million tonnes of plastic pellets every year, which the company says makes it the global market leader in the development and production of plastics recycling systems.
Together, the two inventors hold 37 granted European patents for their recycling innovations Speaking about the importance of intellectual property in their work Feichtinger says: "For economic success, patents play a major role. They provide inspiration, and are the source of new ideas. Through patents you can see how problems are solved by other people and come up with new concepts, new ways to solve challenges." Hackl adds: "They have helped us in our efforts to encourage the plastics industry to move towards the circular economy."
The inventors' shared objective is to make plastic recycling as simple and widespread as recycling paper or glass in the future, in this way changing profoundly how society uses and reuses this ubiquitous material.
The European Inventor Award is one of Europe's most prestigious innovation prizes. Launched by the EPO in 2006, it honours individual inventors and teams of inventors whose pioneering inventions provide answers to some of the biggest challenges of our times. To qualify for the Award, all proposals have to meet specific criteria, including the requirement that the inventor had to have been granted at least one European patent for their invention by the EPO. The finalists and winners in five categories are selected by an independent jury of international authorities in the fields of business, politics, science, academia and research who examine the proposals in terms of their contribution towards scientific and technological progress, society, economic prosperity and job creation in Europe. The winner of the Popular Prize is chosen by the general public from among the 15 finalists by online voting in the run-up to the ceremony. This year's 15 finalists were selected from hundreds of proposals put forward by members of the public, national patent offices around Europe, and EPO staff.
With nearly 7 000 staff, the European Patent Office (EPO) is one of the largest public service institutions in Europe. Headquartered in Munich with offices in Berlin, Brussels, The Hague and Vienna, the EPO was founded with the aim of strengthening co-operation on patents in Europe. Through the EPO's centralised patent granting procedure, inventors are able to obtain high-quality patent protection in up to 44 countries, covering a market of some 700 million people. The EPO is also the world's leading authority in patent information and patent searching.
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