LIFE Program

LIFE is the EU’s financial instrument supporting environmental and climate action projects throughout the EU.

The general objective of LIFE is to contribute to the implementation, updating and development of EU environmental and climate policy and legislation by co-financing projects with European added value.

LIFE began in 1992 and there have been four phases of the programme: LIFE I, LIFE II, LIFE III and LIFE+. During this period, LIFE has co-financed 3954 projects across the EU, contributing approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment.

EU Regulation no. 1293/2013 launched the fifth phase of LIFE for the period 2014-2020. The European Commission (DG Environment and DG Climate Action) manages the LIFE programme together with the Executive Agency for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (EASME).

The LIFE programme is divided into two sub-programmes: environment and climate action.

The Environment Sub-programme includes three priority areas:

  • Environment and resource efficiency;
  • Nature and biodiversity;
  • Environmental governance and information.

The Climate Action Sub-programme includes three priority areas::

  • Climate change mitigation;
  • Climate change adaptation;
  • Climate governance and information.

The general objectives of the new LIFE programme can be summarised as follows:

  • To contribute to the shift towards a resource-efficient, low-carbon and climate-resilient economy, to the protection and improvement of the quality of the environment and to halting and reversing biodiversity loss, including the support of the Natura 2000 network and tackling the degradation of ecosystems
  • To improve the development, implementation and enforcement of Union environmental and climate policy and legislation, and to act as a catalyst for, and promote, the integration and mainstreaming of environmental and climate objectives into other Union policies and public and private sector practice, including by increasing the public and private sector's capacity
  • Support better climate and environmental governance at all levels
  • To support the implementation of the 7th Environment Action Programme (Decision no. 1386/2013/EU of 20/11/2013) “Living well within the limits of our planet”

For further information on LIFE visit the LIFE site or the Ministry of the Environment site (National Contact Point for Italy)

The main environmental issue tackled by the project is the treatment of waste, in particular spent powders, produced during the thermal spraying processes. The proposed solution consists in recycling the powders as secondary raw material, in order to replace the common waste disposal procedures, which have a high environmental and economic impact.

Thermal spraying refers to a group of versatile coating technologies that are used to deposit thick (50 μm - >1 mm) layers of ceramic, metallic, cermet or composite materials for a variety of applications in a number of fields, including: the mechanical industry, aeronautics and energy production and the biomedical industry.

The thermal spray processes differ depending on the nature and properties of the gas used and of the environment in which they operate (air, inert atmosphere, vacuum, etc.). Each process is used to deposit certain categories of materials for specific fields of application.

During the spraying phase, a significant fraction (between 50% and 90% of the total) of powder is not deposited on the substrate to be coated: for various reasons these spent powders cannot be used in the thermal spraying process. The global market for these powders was estimated in 2001 at over €2 billion and it increased to €3 billion in 2009 and even more in the following years.

The project focuses in particular on waste consisting of YSZ (Yttria Stabilized Zirconia), used as thermal protection, and NiCoCrAlY, used for its resistance to oxidation.

The main aim of the project was to demonstrate the feasibility of valorising and recycling different types of thermal spray waste into high value products for industrial and residential use.

On the basis of the type of powders and their morphology, the project aimed to create demonstration products, such as frits, glazes, glazed tiles and sintered parts, containing up to 100% of spent powders.

We concentrated on two classes of powders: corrosion-resistant alloys, such as NiCoCrAlY, and ceramic materials resistant to abrasion and high temperatures, such as Alumina and Zirconia, which at present, due to problems of contamination and loss of spherical morphology, are transformed into hazardous waste after only one or a few uses.

The project, which has been regularly completed, has achieved the following main results:

  • A “zero-waste” approach at thermal spraying plants through the reuse and valorisation of the powders in SPS or in the ceramic sector, using 100% of waste produced. This has been achieved with Alumina and Zirconia, while we encountered major problems with the NiCoCrAlY powders (which, however, represent a minimum percentage compared to the other types of waste);
  • Separation of waste directly at the source: no contamination of the waste flow;
  • Recovery of production waste and consequent savings on raw material, equal to about 1 ton/month of spent powder from thermal spraying;
  • Development of innovative (ODS tools) high and low density products;
  • Development of frits, glazes and glazed ceramic products re-using about 1 ton/month of spent powders from thermal spraying;

The project was implemented by carrying out the following main actions:

  • Characterisation of spent thermal spray powders and definition of usable separation techniques;
  • Definition of chemical and physical pre-treatments necessary to make the powders compatible with the vitreous matrices (frits and glazes);
  • Development of a waste powder separation system according to composition, particle size and morphology;
  • Characterisation of separated and pre-treated spent powders;
  • Development of innovative frits, modified with different percentages of the recovered spent powders and the addition of glass formers, first on a laboratory scale and then on a semi-industrial scale with a pilot line;
  • Development of innovative glazes, modified with the direct addition of the spent powders or of the new frits, first on a laboratory scale and then on a semi-industrial scale with a pilot line;
  • Application of new frits and glazes, firing and characterization of thermal and dilatometric properties, on a laboratory scale;
  • Preparation of the ceramic base (mixture composition, slip) to achieve full compatibility with the new frits and glazes;
  • Development of a demonstration pilot plant for the production of new frits and glazes, using industrial systems;
  • Development of a demonstration pilot plant for the production of ceramic tiles using the new frits and glazes, using industrial systems;
  • Definition of recovery procedures for polished/lapped tiles and methods of recovery of powders abraded during polishing/lapping of the glazes;
  • Sintering of ODS (Oxide Dispersion Strengthened) composites using SPS (spark plasma sintering) technology, directly from the spent powders and optimization of the process, to obtain very high density and low density products, for different uses;
  • Characterization of all types of products obtained and LCA of the new products and process.

The project regularly ended on 30/06/2016 and permitted to reach some important environmental benefits:
  • Waste-management approach from the production site (thermal spraying plants) to the reuse and valorization of the powders in spark plasma sintering or in ceramic firing, absorbing almost 100% of waste produced by the thermal spraying plants, with no solid waste production. Only NiCoCrAlY powders recycling proved to be not completely satisfactory since the application in ceramic tiles would need added studies and demonstrations due to over-heating issues;
  • Separation of waste generation at the source: no cross contamination of waste streams occurs;
  • Immobilization of harmful contaminants of spent thermal spray powders (mainly heavy metals) in matrixes (glass matrix, ODS composites) which do not leach such elements;
  • Absorption of other waste, like recycled glass cullets, for preparation of the glass matrix and to lower softening point;
  • Application of low energy consumption techniques for recycling of thermal spray spent powders: rapid, SPS and gas-fired roller kilns in rapid firing cycles.

and some technical and economic benefits:
  • Realization of innovative products (ODS tools, low-cost targets for PVD, antistatic and EM shielding tiles, abrasion resistant or anti-slip tiles) currently not available on market or manufactured with much higher costs for starting raw materials;
  • Cost savings for spent thermal spray powders disposal;
  • Cost savings for supplying refractory ceramic powders by recycling the alumina and zirconia ones.

Regarding the entire project, the comparison between the white frit containing thermal spray waste and the traditional frit shows a reduction of the environmental load of 13.78% with respect to the traditional ones in a LCA perspective.
Concerning the considered environmental indicators it is possible, in fact, to highlight the following aspects:
  • the use of frit containing thermal spray waste reduces the use of non-renewable raw materials of 50%;
  • no increase of energy consumption during firing the ceramic tiles was observed;
  • the emissions in air in terms of kgCO2/kg of frit containing thermal spray waste are reduced of 19.87% with respect to the traditional frit;
  • a reduction of 100% transport of raw materials is obtained considering the avoided shipping of ZrSiO4 from Australia or Ukraine (the most important countries in extraction of zirconium) to the industrial plant;

The proposed approach is thus more economical than the current one:
  • The reduction of energy consumption in the manufacturing phase (frit containing thermal spray waste vs traditional frits) is 73.7%;
  • The reduction of raw material cost (frit containing thermal spray waste vs traditional frits) is 24.16 %;
  • The reduction of manufacturing costs per unit of product, considering personnel, energy, plants and transports, is 80.22%.

In general, however, the costs for the production of the product are minor compared to the traditional of more than 80%.

Fondovalle took part in the following trade fairs, with its own booth, during which it presented the LIFE ReTSW-SINT project, distributed information material and illustrated the objectives:

  • CERSAIE 2015 was held in Bologna from 28 September to 2 October 2015
  • COVERINGS 2016, took place in Chicago from 18 to 21 April 2016

It also participated in the “Welcome to the LIFE Programme” event organised on 23/05/2015 and on 28/05/2016 by the University of Padua, which was held in the Department of Engineering, during which the project objectives were illustrated and information material was distributed.

Finally, it took part in the final project event, carried out jointly with La Borghigiana S.r.l. of the LIFE12 ENV/IT/419 project, held at the headquarters of La Borghigiana on 30/06/2016.

Some photos of participated events.






  • The project was initially presented by Majorca S.p.A. as coordinating beneficiary; in June 2016, the European Commission officially approved the takeover of Ceramica Fondovalle S.p.A., which had carried out the technical project activities together with the other partners.
  • We have set up an information desk at the Fondovalle headquarters, where flyers and other project-related documents are available.
  • On 30/06/2016 we took part in the final project event, jointly carried out with La Borghigiana S.p.A., beneficiary of the LIFE12 ENV/IT/419 project
  • The Project was presented during the 3rd LCA technical seminar held in Reggio Emilia on 29 September 2016 at the premises of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia.
  • A scientific publication has been produced on the activities carried out for the project by UNIMORE on 10 April 2017.



The LIFE ReTSW-SINT project was born from a group of environmentally conscious companies and universities that seek innovative solutions to mitigate and reduce the environmental impact of industrial activities.

The companies and universities involved are:

  • Ceramica Fondovalle s.p.a.
  • Fritta Italia s.r.l.
  • Turbocoating s.p.a.
  • K4Sint s.r.l.
  • Majorca s.p.a.
  • Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia

The main aim of the LIFE ReTSW-SINT project is to demonstrate the feasibility of valorising and recycling different types of thermal spray waste into high value products for industrial and residential use. The project has received the financial support of the European Union through the LIFE+ programme, thanks to the environmental importance of the project and to the possibility of transferring it to other companies.



The LIFE W-LAP project was originated by combining the experiences of two companies operating in the field of ceramics, both of which had received awards from the European Union for their commitment towards the environment thanks to their earlier experiences with the LIFE programme. Both Ceramica Fondovalle and Iride had received the “Best of the Best” award, assigned each year by the European Commission to the best European projects. In developing the project, in addition to Iride, another exceptional partner will be working alongside Ceramica Fondovalle: the University of Padua, which has always paid attention to the environmental impact of industrial activities.

The main aim of the W-LAP project was to solve environmental problems connected with the stage of finishing of flat ceramic surfaces, thanks to the introduction of an innovative additive polishing technology. It received the financial support of the European Union through the LIFE+ programme, which recognised its importance for the environment and its potential for transferring to other companies or similar industries.

W-LAP is an innovative project for the drastic reduction of water consumption and the nullification of levigation sludge production during surface finishing operations on ceramic tiles.

W-LAP is an innovative additive polishing technique.

W-LAP is realised with the contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union.


The environmental problems tackled and solved by the project are two, basically:

  • The high consumption of water in the surface-finishing stage of ceramic tiles;
  • The enormous quantity of grinding sludge produced. This waste is difficult to manage and is normally sent to landfills.
As far as concerns the first point, it must be considered that climate change is affecting rainfall patterns and, therefore, the availability of water. This problem is common to all EU countries, and indeed the EU is currently adopting a number of framework directives on problems connected with the availability and quality of water in the European Union, which have an impact particularly in the southernmost countries, including Italy. From the point of view of industrial processing in the field of ceramics, 800 litres of water per square metre of finished product are required in the surface-finishing stage of tile production. In spite of the fact that most of the water used is filter-pressed and recovered, part of it is in any case lost since it is contained in the grinding sludge. Considering that, even using the best filter-pressing technology, the water content of the grinding sludge amounts to 30% of the total weight, the amount of water consumed in the whole of Europe for this type of processing exceeds 28 million litres. This situation is even more serious taking into account the fact that the production of ceramic materials usually takes place in specific circumscribed areas (districts). The new project tackles this problem directly since the new process will almost completely eliminate the consumption of water, lowering it from 800 to somewhere in the range of 0.7 to 0.3 litres per square metre of product (depending on the type of deposition of the polymer). As far as concerns the problem of grinding sludge, this consists of material abraded from the tiles, abrasive particles that have become detached from the grinding wheels and water. This heterogeneous composition makes it extremely difficult to re-use and this type of waste is therefore habitually stored at landfills. Again in this respect, the figures are impressive, if we consider that the grinding of ceramic tiles gives rise to 0.6 kg of grinding sludge per square metre of product, meaning over 95,000 metric tons of sludge for the whole of Europe. The new project will eliminate this type of environmental problem completely, since the new process will not give rise to grinding sludge, there being no removal of material.

The main aim of the project was to replace the current surface finishing stage (grinding, polishing, lapping, etc.) of ceramic tiles with an innovative “additive polishing” technology. Instead of removing material, this calls for the controlled deposition of a very thin layer of polymer-based material featuring a suitable light refraction index.
In this way, it was possible to obtain the same aesthetic results achieved by surface finishing of tiles, ensuring, furthermore, optimum and simultaneous sealing of any porosities present on the surface. This therefore makes the tiles easier to clean and more resistant to the proliferation of bacteria, and less water and detergents are required to clean them during use, both out of doors and indoors.
All this was achieved with a process using very little water, without producing grinding sludge and consuming less energy than before.

The activities that will be carried out for implementing the project consist, basically, of the following:

  • Identification of water-based polymers or co-polymers that can be prepared in solid, liquid or viscous forms and that have the required characteristics of transparency and resistance, with the possibility of adding surface modifiers (fluorinated compounds and other functional additives)
  • Implementation of techniques for depositing these precursors uniformly on ceramic surfaces, either by brushing them on, in the case of solid precursors, or spraying them on at low pressure in the case of viscous liquids
  • definition of the optimum deposition parameters and of the UV curing time
  • investigation of the final surface quality in terms of durability, appearance and ease of cleaning
  • assembly of a demonstration line for continuous treatment of ceramic tiles using this innovative additive polishing process
  • production of demonstration sets of ceramic floor and wall-covering tiles for indoor and for outdoor and evaluation of possible deterioration during use
  • definition of the cleaning and maintenance procedures for the end-user
  • drafting of a mass/energy balance for the new process and its comparison with the state-of-the-art; calculation of the environmental indicators and quantification of the actual benefits, both direct (during production) and indirect (during use and at the end of useful life).
In addition to the technical activities described above, the fundamental activities of management and monitoring of the project will be carried on, as well as dissemination in order to circulate the aims and results of the project and to bring the LIFE tool to the knowledge of potential stakeholders.

The technical activities pertaining to the W-LAP project were started, mainly concerning the preparatory activities:

  • identification of low-friction polymers with water-based precursors, that had to be transparent, UV-curable and stiff;
  • implementation of techniques for the uniform deposition of polymer precursors on the surfaces of tiles;
  • definition of the optimum deposition parameters and definition of the UV solidifying cycle.
The preparatory activities were duly completed within the planned deadline. The project is concluded and the technical activities were performed:

At its own laboratory, using the CES (Cambridge Engineering Selector) software, Padua University proceeded to select low-friction polymers with water-based precursors that were transparent, UV-curable and that could be prepared in either solid or viscous liquid form, with the possibility of adding surface-tension modifiers. This election enabled a range of potential materials to be identified so as to start up the next action.

The activity of Padua University continued with the investigation of possible techniques to be used for uniform deposition of polymer precursors on the surfaces of ceramic tiles, both by rubbing/brushing (for solid precursors) and by spraying at a low pressure (for viscous liquids). Using the materials identified during the previous activity, the critical aspects of the various technologies were identified, creating the basis for starting the next activity.

It was possible, on the basis of the processes identified during the previous activity, to determine the best deposition parameters and to define the UV curing cycle for the polymer precursors identified in activity A.1. Thanks to the use of DoE (Design of Experiments) techniques, it was possible to reduce the number of tests, seeking correlations among the different variables and the responses obtained. Three of the five products identified and considered most suitable were chosen for testing and a potential supplier of the products was identified and contacted. Based on the results of the preparatory activities, it was possible to start the testing stage at the Fondovalle plant, using for the moment products available on the market.

Starting from the samples realizes in the previous phases of the project, the objective of this action was to evaluate the final quality of their surfaces. When possible, tests were performed according to the UNI-EN or ASTM standards.

To design the new line, we have used the conditions deriving from the actions B.1 and B.2.
The final pilot line was used to treat different types of tiles, to evaluate its capacity.

The demonstrative sets had two fundamental scopes: the first one was the actual evaluation of the degradation phenomena of the material, the second one was the visibility of the project and the dissemination of the obtained results.

MASS AND ENERGY BALANCE AND EVALUATION OF THE RESULTS COMPARED TO THE TRADITIONAL PROCESS The analysis carried out by the Padua University showed a clear improvement in the results obtained using the new deposition technique both in economic and environmental terms. The project was concluded the 31th August 2014.

Fondovalle was present with its own booth at the Cersaie show held in Bologna from 25 to 29 September 2012, at which it presented the new “W-LAP” project.
Fondovalle was present with its own booth also at the Cersaie show held in Bologna from 23 to 27 September 2013, at which it presented the preliminary results of the “W-LAP” project.
Fondovalle was present at the international COVERINGS show held in Atlanta (USA) from 29th april to 2nd May 2013.
Fondovalle has partecipated to the event organised by the Engineering Department of Padua University the 24th May 2014: during the event, Fondovalle has presented the LIFE W-LAP Project.

The 4th August 2012 Fondovalle published an article titled “In this way the LIFE+ financial instruments lead to a more ecologic enterprise” related to the W-LAP Project on the “ItaliaOggi” newspaper.
At the end of the 2012 we have joined the Facebook page “Think Eco Live Green”. The page promotes the LIFE projects and creates the basis for the networking activities. ThinkEcoLiveGreen

We have setup an informative kiosk at our headquarter in which brochure, flyers and layman’s reports about the project are available.


WASTE³ is an innovative project for the energyfree valorisation of copper metallurgical WASTE³.

WASTE³ is realised whith the contribution of the LIFE finalcial instrument of the European Union.




WASTE³ is also crisp plates or auxiliary heating elements and tubolar resistance heating elements.

The environmental issues tackled and solved by the project were, basically, Secondo:

  • The waste matter resulting from the extraction of copper using pyrometallurgical processes
  • The high power consumption involved in the prodotto uction of resistance type heating elements.
As far as concerns the first point, we must consider that, as a result of the pyrometallurgical processing involved, 2.2 kg of discarded matter are prodotto uced for each kilogram of copper prodotto uced, and this discarded material is not used for metallurgical uses. Rather, it is disposed of or undergoes further treatment as inert material for hydraulic construction work, e.g. in harbour wharves. Every year about 24.6 million metric tons of discarded material of this type are generated in the world, 5.56 million of which in Europe alone. Most of it is simply disposed of, in spite of the fact that there are many possible applications for it, although they would require further processing that would lead to a negative final environmental balance. The WASTE³ project has found a way to re-use this material, exploiting the intrinsic properties of the discarded substances to create new materials with unique characteristics. This reduces the quantity of discarded material that up to now was sent to landfills. There are thus positive aspects for the environment, and the processing of the slag, according to the WASTE³ project, requires only a small amount of energy, so that the environmental impact would be positive also from this point of view. As far as concerns the second problem, we must keep in mind that the discarded material has interesting semi-conductor and ferromagnetic properties, since it consists mainly of iron oxides and silicates, and that it has a low intrinsic energy. If it were to be used to replace materials such as SiC, which instead features a high intrinsic energy, a substantial energy saving would be achieved in the treatments involving it. The intrinsic energy of a heating element made of sintered silicon carbide is 60 MJ/Kg, which increases to 110 MJ/Kg when molybdenum disilicide is used, and the environmental impact for the prodotto uction of advanced ceramic material is 5 and 8 Kg of CO2 respectively for each Kg of SiC or MoSi2. Replacing these elements with others featuring less intrinsic energy but similar properties determines lower energy consumption and therefore a lesser impact on the environment.

The main aim of the project concerned the conversion of waste (slag) resulting from the copper metallurgy process into heating elements and semi-conductor glazes to be used in residential applications. This means reconverting and re-using the material discarded when processing copper, such as iron oxides and silicates, in order to make – by way of example – under-floor heating panels for household use. This would lead to a reduction in the prodotto uction of CO2 and in energy consumption. The project was not limited merely to re-using the slag prodotto uced during the copper metallurgy process, since it also had the aim of developing new high-performance prodotto ucts starting out from that type of waste:

  • New under-floor heating elements for residential and other heating applications, obtained by low-temperature sintering, to replace conventional wall-mounted heating elements
  • Innovative ceramic enamels for antistatic functions and featuring electromagnetic shielding properties, for floor, wall-covering and overlaid tiles obtained by melting, fritting and firing on a ceramic backing;
  • Tubular heating elements obtained by sintering;
  • Crisp Plates™ for microwave cooking or auxiliary elements / microwave absorbers for use in industrial plants, obtained by melting.

To achieve this, the partners have built a small pilot line able to treat a maximum of 200 kg/day of waste matter, to prodotto uce samples of the new prodotto ucts and demonstrate the feasibility of manufacturing them on an industrial scale. The main results expected of this project were, so, as follows:

  • Use of copper metallurgy waste, currently exploited only to a limited extent, so that their disposal is no longer necessary (600 g for each microwave absorber, 1300 g per m2 of flooring, 800 g per kg of ceramic glaze);
  • Replacement of high embodied-energy materials such as silicon carbide or molybdenum, disilicide for making heating elements, with discarded materials featuring less embodied energy, which would lead to energy saving and to less emissions of greenhouse gases during processing;
  • Use of other re-cycled materials, such as glass, to lower the process temperature and increase the ease of processing of the prodotto uct, or of clay or salvaged alkaline oxides;
  • Development of high-performance materials able to reduce energy consumption during their use;
  • Use of new materials as auxiliary microwave absorbers, thus increasing the efficiency of microwave ovens (from 75% to 95%);
  • Shielding from high-frequency electromagnetic fields;
  • Increasing safety in explosion-prone places thanks to the antistatic properties of the covering.

In order to achieve the pre-established aims, and in view of the complexity of the project, the parties proposing it had defined a series of activities to be carried out in order to achieve the expected aims within the scheduled time-frame. These activities were the following:

  • Collection, characterisation and preparation of the discarded material, in order to find sources of the discarded material from copper metallurgy able to provide a constant flow of raw materials and such as to enable their properties to be characterised so as to investigate their suitability for use. This stage has been important also for determining if and what preparatory activities would have been necessary in order to make the waste usable in the subsequent stages of processing.
  • Definition of the forming and sintering techniques, in order to determine the optimum conditions for achieving efficient forming and sintering of the granules of the slag. The aim was to determine the best treatment procedures so as to transfer them to the pilot plant.
  • Construction of forming and sintering sub-systems for the pilot line, able to prodotto uce sintered parts. For these applications, other raw materials, preferably re-cycled, have been added, such as sintering aids. This enabled one-piece components to be obtained at relatively low temperatures. Finishing operations have also been implemented.
  • Definition of the process conditions of the melting and casting activities and creation of samples of vitreous one-piece prodotto ucts. This is the stage in which the process conditions for the melting and casting activities have been defined, and use of the salvaged discarded material investigated with the possible addition of forming agents and vitreous modifiers to the compound.
  • Definition of the process conditions for obtaining frit and glazes, and application tests on ceramic tiles. The most appropriate rapid-cooling conditions have been investigated, analysing both dry cooling and wet cooling techniques, so as to evaluate the benefits of each.
  • Creation of the melting and forming sub-system for the prodotto uction of plates for microwave cooking and antistatic glazes with electromagnetic shielding properties. This activity lead to completion of the demonstration pilot line dedicated to melting and to the prodotto uction of the first samples.
  • Assembly of the pilot line and creation of samples of prodotto ucts to be used in normal electrical or microwave applications
  • Chemical, mechanical, electrical and di-electric characterisation, carrying out a number of different tests and analyses on the end prodotto ucts so as to determine their physical properties. This stage was important for investigating the safety and functional characteristics of the prodotto ucts before they can be distributed to the public interested in the project.
  • Re-cycling of the material at the end of its useful life and Eco-audit.

Alongside the activities described above, other no less important management and monitoring activities and of dissemination of the project have been carried out, while circulation of the results is continuing beyond the date of completion of the project.

The project proceeded regularly as foreseen. In a first stage, the activity of collection, characterisation and preparation of the slag was completed. This was done mainly by MicroEnergy, albeit with the support of Fondovalle and of the university partners (UNIMORE and UNITN) for defining the necessary characteristics for using this waste material. After a stage consisting of selection among various suppliers of slag, an Austrian company able to supply material with a particle size smaller than 200 µm, without variations in its physical and mechanical properties, was identified. This facilitates the stage of preparation of the slag, since a preliminary screening stage enables separation of the fraction containing particles smaller than 150 µm (about 80% of the total). Thanks to a milling system purchased by MicroEnergy, it is then be possible to process the remaining amount to obtain particle sizes of up to 60 µm.

The project then continued at the laboratory of Trento University, in order to define the most suitable forming and sintering techniques for obtaining specific prodotto ucts. This activity started out from a first characterisation of the milled material, made up mainly of Fe and Si (at a more or less constant concentration, even in various different batches), plus small quantities of Ca, Cu, Al, Zn, K and S, in addition to very minor quantities of impurities (Na and Mg). The first result was the elimination of tape casting technology, due to the rapid sedimentation of the metal particles due to their weights, unless these are milled to a particle size smaller than 10 µm, which would increase the environmental impact of the process. The activity continued with uniaxial pressing and sintering tests, in a normal atmosphere and in argon, finding different sintering and vitrification temperatures (ranging from 900°C to 1150°C), with considerable variations in the characteristics of the end prodotto uct. Further tests were then carried out using SPS (Spark Plasma Sintering) technology, with consolidation of the dust at considerably lower temperatures (ranging from 600°C to 700°C) and a high density of the samples obtained. The next stage took place both care of Fondovalle and care of MicroEnergy, with the construction of sub-systems for forming and sintering the new prodotto ucts and with the manufacturing of the first prodotto ucts. Specifically, MicroEnergy created a small but complete laboratory consisting of a mill, a press and one roller hearth furnace and one static oven for firing the prodotto ucts in an inert-gas atmosphere, while Fondovalle adapted its plants for preparing the raw materials, its presses, its grit- deposition system, its dryer and the firing kiln. The tests carried out gave rise to several different samples of new prodotto ucts, in particular:


to be used in high-power industrial microwave systems. A first stiff version was created with a slag content of 90% in weight of the tiles. Some initial samples of panels with a rubbery matrix were also created. These were flexible and lighter, with a slag content of up to 60% in weight.


with a slag content of 45% in weight; while normal containers are microwave-transparent, these oven dishes can reach a temperature of 250°C inside a microwave oven, enabling the food to be cooked conventionally through heat transfer, while the microwaves heat the food from inside.


to be used as replacements for tubular heating elements made of silicon carbide or molybdenum disilicide, which have a high embodied energy. The elements made, which measured 20 cm, have a very high resistivity and can reach temperatures of up to 1000°C rapidly due to the Joule effect simply by applying conventional voltages (0-100 V).


first of all small-sized samples were manufactured using a laboratory press. Then they were made on a semi-industrial scale, in two different ways. The first procedure consisted of introducing the slag into the mixture, then carrying out pressing, drying and subsequent sintering (firing) inside a roller hearth furnace. The second procedure consisted of creating a conventional ceramic backing and depositing a layer of grit made up of suitably selected slag on the surface of the unfired tile, followed by a second pressing, drying and sintering. In the meantime, the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, jointly with an important manufacturer of ceramic glaze, proceeded with melting tests of the slag in order to obtain frit and glaze. These were carried out at a temperature of 1550°C using different types of crucible and adding different types of powder for facilitating melting and increasing the dielectric properties of the samples. The bulk material obtained in this way proved to have a microwave absorption capacity and dielectric properties suitable for going ahead with the project. The activity then continued with the tests for preparing and applying the frit and the glaze, carried out by Fondovalle and UNIMORE. The tests were carried out first on laboratory scale, in four different ways (a single layer of glaze, two layers of glaze, one layer of engobe and one of glaze, one layer of engobe and two of glaze), after which the item was fired in the industrial kiln. Then several samples of glazes and engobes were applied using a deposition system based on silk-screen printing rollers with especially designed screens. Again in this case, the results of the tests were more than satisfactory. After the realization, with the systems made, ​​of samples for each type of prodotto uct, subsequent activities have focused on the functional characterization of the prodotto ucts themselves. The results were important, though not always met the initial expectations:


Microwave absorber tiles were tested and an insertion loss around 6 dB/cm at 2,45 GHz was measured. They were presented to many European stakeholders with the aim to enhance their interest towards the prodotto uct and to finely characterize the prodotto uct performance in industrial working conditions. For this reason ceramic absorbers with 60%wt. slag content were prepared to be installed on microwave conveyor oven walls. A drastic reduction of microwave leakage was measured. Their performance are equal or better than current shielding/attenuation solutions (water, silicon carbide, ferrite tiles), which are less versatile and much more expansive.


Microwave heating properties and cooking performances of microwave plates were tested in common microwave home appliances. Thanks to the hybrid absorbent/transmissive characteristics of the slag/ceramic composite, the position of the microwave inlet only slightly affects the heating pattern. Therefore this technology is very adaptable because the plate fits well with several ovens from different manufacturers with replicable results. To achieve sufficient cooking results the container should be preheated for 2-3 minutes at 900W to reach 150°C. In comparison to Crisp Plate this preheating times are quite longer because the ceramic plate weighs more (1000 g) than a conventional metallic Crisp Plate (600 g). On the other hand, the high thermal mass and thermal retention of ceramic allows the plate to remain warm for a double time than a Crisp Plate after cooking. Furthermore some cooking advantages were evidenced: slag-activated plates show a level of browning/crisping that is comparable or better than Crisp Plate. In addition, slag plates provide strong heat generation also on the lateral sides, while Crisp Plate don’t.


It was not possible to carry on the functional characterization of heating resistances because of the problems encountered during the development, as after 10-15 cycles samples brake: the heating resistances are not performant enough; we demonstrated that it is possible to obtain the resistances, they work, but they have too few activity cycles for applications.


glazed tiles have been prodotto uced. The frit has been mixed with water and Kaolin as clay and milled in order to obtain a slurry. Subsequently the slurry has been deposited on the support and subjected to the traditionalheating treatment. The support has been previously engobed. The engobe can be used for different purposes: to give color; to improve the surface texture, to provide a ground to do further decoration; to add textures in order to avoid some defects. One of the most frequently defect in the glaze are bubbles due to gas generated during transformation of the body. In particular, engobe eliminates gas bubbles large enough to prodotto uce holes, craters or depression. Another function it is to prevent direct contact between the tile body and the glaze. This avoids the risk of contamination of the glaze by the body transformation. The aesthetic properties has been evaluated considering the presence of defects such as bubbles and cracks. The final materials have been also characterized by X-Ray diffraction, scanning electron microscopy and Raman spectroscopy by UNIMORE. Other treatments have been performed changing the time of the heating process in order to promote the sinterization of the entire ceramic body. Through the pilot systems, various kinds of samples to be analysed have been prodotto uced and the characterizations get to the complete definition of the mechanical properties and chemical and mineralogical composition of the different prodotto ucts obtained with the project will be achieved. The electric and dielectric properties of the optimized samples have been, then, measured. All the samples show interesting conductivity values due to the presence of high percentages of iron in the glass matrix as well as due to the presence of magnetite as crystalline phase. By MW heating tests, the samples have been also subjected to heating cycles, suggesting that the samples can be used as selective materials for microwave heating applications. An assessment of the environmental impact due to the life cycle of the prodotto ucts obtained compared with the impacts due to the life cycle of traditional prodotto ucts having the same functions has been made as well. Analysis was conducted with the Life Cycle Assessment methodology (LCA), in order to consider the whole life cycle of the prodotto ucts, from the raw materials extraction, to the use and the end of life phase, including transports and all the stages of the prodotto uction processes, obtaining a “cradle to grave” overview. The comparison between the frit containing copper slags and a traditional one, showed that the former is 15,35% less impacting of the latter, and that the difference is bigger in the global warming category. The comparison between 1 m2 of slags tile and 1 m2 of a traditional stoneware tile shows a disadvantage from an environmental point of view. Slags tile damage is 18,30% higher than the damage prodotto uced by the traditional one. The comparison shows that it’s not advantageous to use this formulation for the prodotto uction of tiles. The innovative material is more sustainable than the traditional one, as microwave absorber, because of the high percentage of material of recovery that contains. In fact, the microwave absorber with copper slags has an environmental load, which is for 87% less to that of the traditional tile.

  • In June 2012 Ceramica Fondovalle took part in the event “LIFE: L’eco-ambiente compie 20 anni”, organised by Padua University and held in the Palazzo Bo building in Padua (Italy), during which the company made a preliminary presentation of the project (the presentation can be downloaded in the Photos and Downloads section).
  • Ceramica Fondovalle attended CERSAIE, the International Exhibition of Ceramic Tiles and Bathroom Furnishing, held in Bologna (Italy) in late September 2012. During the course of the event, it presented the WASTE³ event, also distributing leaflets drafted specifically for dissemination purposes (the Fondovalle for Life leaflet can be downloaded from the Photos and Downloads section).
  • Ceramica Fondovalle also attended COVERINGS, held in Atlanta (GA, USA) from 29/04 to 02/05/2013; again on this occasion, leaflets about the on-going LIFE projects were distributed.
  • The University of Modena and Reggio Emilia took part in the ha 2nd Global Conference on “Microwave Energy Applications” held in June 2012 in Long Beach (CA, USA), at which it exhibited an information poster on the activities carried out and exchanged experiences with other parties attending the event.
  • The University of Modena and Reggio Emilia attended the International Conference on “FUNCTIONAL GLASSES: Properties and Applications for Energy & Information”, held in January 2013 in Siracusa (Italy), at which it showed a poster illustrating on the activities carried out.
  • At the end of June 2013 the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia hold a verbal presentation at the 13th International Conference of the “European Ceramic Society” in Limoges (France), on the activities carried out in the framework of the project and on the results achieved.
  • In March and September 2013 the project was disseminated by the participation in fairs COVERINGS and CERSAIE, international most important exhibitions for the industry, displaying notice boards to attract the interest of the other exhibitors and visitors, distributing leaflets and brochures and training the personnel involved for project presentation and information face to face;
  • In may 2014 Fondovalle participated in an event about LIFE program organised in the University of Padua with other beneficiaries with the opportunity to formally present the “WASTE³″ project and explain the goals reached also by the previous LIFE projects “Microfinishing”, ended, and “W-LAP”, in course, with very great networking opportunity other than disseminative purposes;



The LIFE WASTE³ project is the outcome of the encounter between Secondo business enterprises and Secondo universities, having in common their concern with environmental issues and, consequently, the same wish to improve the world in which we live.

The parties referred to here are:

  • Ceramica Fondovalle s.p.a.
  • MicroEnergy s.r.l.
  • Università degli studi di Trento (UNITN)
  • Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia (UNIMORE).

In view of the technical difficulty and the very innovative features involved, the project – the main aim of which was to convert waste material resulting from copper metallurgy – was originated, necessarily, from the encounter between industrial and research activities. In the framework of its LIFE+ programme, the European Commission immediately recognised the environmental and innovative potential of the WASTE³ project and granted the partners financial support for bringing it to fruition and communicating its results, thus enabling other companies to take the ecological innovation introduced by it on board.



Microfinishing is an innovative pilot process developed by Ceramica Fondovalle S.p.A. and able to eliminate the grinding and polishing stage of ceramic tiles. In 2001 alone, this stage produced over 110,000 metric tons of sludge. With the introduction of the Microfinishing project, that stage was replaced by an innovative dry microfinishing method consisting of blasting the surfaces to be treated with homogeneous particles of material similar to that being treated. These were obtained by means of a specific process by which raw porcelain stoneware is ground into particles of variable sizes, used selectively to blast the surfaces. The pneumo-mechanical method applied is able to treat and fashion the surface of each tile in a suitable manner, giving rise to the required characteristics of opacity, gloss or translucence. This material is projected against the walls of the tile and acts like abrasive sand. Its specific functions are produced by applying pre-established pressures and incidences and using a pre-defined composition. With this innovative method it is possible to treat any type of flat, jagged or structured surface typical of marble, crushed stone and split stone. Special rotating heads and special nozzles, all controlled electronically, are the main mechanical components of the process. The waste material resulting from the micro-finishing process can be re-used as is in the production process for manufacturing porcelain stoneware, since its components are identical to those of the raw material used in the process. Thanks to its contribution towards European environmental policy, the Microfinishing project received the much coveted recognition and support of the European Commission through the LIFE+ financial tool.

Current grinding and polishing processes are carried out using special abrasive grinders made of silicon carbide. Since the process is a wet process, it produces sludge in quantities amounting to 1.95 kg per square metre of finished product, of which the abrasive material accounts for 0.45 kg. This means that the sludge consists of porcelain stoneware powder, residues abraded from the grinders, washing water and additives involved in the flocculating and clarification process. The chemical analysis of grinding sludge can be expressed as follows: SiO2 (55-65%), AlO3 (13-18%), CaO (1-3%), MgO (4-7%), Na2O+K2O (3-5%), Fe2O3+TiO2 (1-3%), calcining loss (4-8%), chlorides (1-2%), sulphates (1-2%), SiC (1-4%), heavy metal (less than 5000 ppm). The sludge described above is classed as special waste and is stored provisionally in open-air systems or transferred to third parties for disposal at landfills. Because of the absolute chemical and physical, mineralogical and thermal incompatibility of the main substances contained in it, it cannot even be re-cycled. The fact that the sludge is so heterogeneous and its chemical and physical characteristics are such that it cannot be used in any way even after filter-pressing or drying. Most of the industrial waste currently produced by the various different production cycles are re-cycled in time in some way or another, often in the framework of the production cycle itself. In this specific case, however, all attempts to re-cycle this material have been in vain. The Microfinishing project had the aim of demonstrating the feasibility of a process capable of tackling the root of the problem described above, highlighting the possibility of applying a completely clean innovative technology involving no consumption of water and insignificant energy costs.

The goals achieved by Ceramica Fondovalle in developing the Micro-finishing project and the associated benefits for the environment can be identified and quantified as follows:

  • water savings: since the production of grinding sludge amounts to 1.95 kg/m2 of stoneware, and since the sludge contains over 50% of water, it is possible to save 1 litre of water per m2 of stoneware;
  • elimination of special waste: it is possible to eliminate the production of special waste amounting to almost 2 kg/m2 of stoneware; referred to the company’ production in the reference year of the project, this would mean avoiding the production of approximately 4,000,000 kg of toxic sludge per year and, since the grinding stage would be eliminated, this would mean avoiding sending over 1,000 exhausted grinding wheels to landfills each year;
  • lower energy consumption: the new process would require energy amounting to 1 kW/h per m2 of processed product, compared with the 2.38 kW/h per m2 for the conventional surface finishing cycle, with a reduction in energy consumption of over 50%.

Ceramica Fondovalle undertook a series of experiments, first by equipping and using an experimental laboratory Norblast cabinet, then by building in-house a prototype of a micro-finishing system. The aim of this activity was to define working parameters on which to base the design of the prototype and its components. A test plan was therefore drafted, based on the following:

  • 6 Product typologies, in three different sizes
  • 4 Different jet pressure conditions
  • 4 Process lenghts
  • 3 Angles of incidence of the flow
  • 10 MDifferent abrasive mixture formulations

Up to May 2003, over 560 different tests were carried out. On analysing the results, the following was found:

  • the best result in terms of appearance and surface smoothness was obtained using the lowest pressure and using the least aggressive abrasives, with the longest duration of the process and with an angle of incidence of 75°
  • the degree of cleanability remains low for all the tests carried out; indeed, the best results are achieved by applying long treatment times, which make the process unsuitable for application on an industrial scale
  • the damage caused to the surface when the mixtures are too aggressive, combined with a high running pressure and incidence perpendicular to the surface is permanent and irreparable and cause the product to be rejected.

Ceramica Fondovalle has therefore arranged to redefine the manner of creation of the surfaces of the products to be treated. Steps were taken upstream from the cycle, in the area of creation of the backing, to improve the surface strength of the product and reduce the unit size of the particles forming the surface, so as to prevent the formation of pitting, which would force the product to be discarded. Loading of the mould was then modified, introducing a “double-loading” procedure according to which the surface layer was loaded with raw material featuring a smaller particle size mixed with final glaze in powder form and pressed with greater force. By July 2003 a new series of experimental products had been made (the LASTRICA range), consisting of various formats. These products have been subjected to microfinishing and excellent results have been seen, in terms both of the process and of finish, and with no problems relating to ease of cleaning. These results enabled not only the new range but also the LIFE PROJECT to be presented at the CERSAIE 2003 show. In the following months, tests involved additional products made with the double pressing system (this technology is known as BI+FUSION), specifically the LOFT range and a product that was then still in the experimental stage called BI+MIX. The quality result obtained with the new product lines were found to be more than satisfactory: the next tests, using the prototype built in-house, enabled the most suitable mixtures for the microfinishing treatment to be identified on a final basis. The testing on the system prototype also enabled the technical problems connected with the system as a whole to be tackled, specifically:

  1. The pneumatic system for conveying the abrasive material directly to the spraying nozzles, and which was initially designed as a closed cycle powered by compressed air, was causing: a) rapid deterioration of the piping inside which the abrasive material was carried; b) high consumption of compressed air and therefore of electricity; c) rapid wear of the abrasive material with a consequent reduction in its aggressive power;
  2. The swivelling nozzles had to be particularly resistant to abrasion and had to have a particular internal shape able to manage the flow of abrasive material also outside the nozzle
  3. Although the system for keeping the abraded material separate from the abrasive material by means of a suction air flow worked properly on the prototype, it would have required an excessively high operating pressure when applied on an industrial scale.

With the assistance of the firm Carlo Banfi, the company proceeded to build a pilot plant enabling the problems illustrated above to be overcome. Specifically:

  1. The system for conveying the abrasive material is now a mixed mechanical, gravity-based and pneumatic system, in which the compressed air starts up only in the spraying stage inside the nozzle, into which the abrasive material falls by gravity. All the other actions moving the abrasive are carried out either by gravity or by means of mechanical forces, using a bucket elevator. This has enabled the following: a) the abrasive action on the components of the conveyor system has been eliminated; b) the consumption of compressed air (and consequently of electricity) has been greatly reduced, by 80% by comparison with the prototype; c) the aggressive power of the abrasive used has been preserved;
  2. The nozzles were made of sintered tungsten carbide, which were preferred rather than those made of Tetrabor (boron carbide). The solution adopted was more expensive, however it was able to ensure maximum efficiency in terms of performance and durability. What is more, the components of tungsten carbide nozzles are not contraindicated in the field of ceramics, while boron is particularly harmful for the ceramic cycle. The inside of each nozzle was tapered with a helical shape, and the micro-finishing unit was designed with eight nozzles aligned in a row;
  3. The system for separating the abraded material from the abrasive material was re-positioned: a bucket elevator carried the mixture to a tank situated at the top of the system so that the flow of material fell by gravity through a first filter for coarse particles, encountering a counter-flow of suction air at a suitably gauged pressure, able to carry the smaller particles as far as the suppressing filter, while the remaining material still suitable for use fell into the tank feeding the nozzles. In this way, it was possible to achieve optimum separation between the materials but using only a minimum quantity of compressed air.

This pilot plant was delivered early in February 2005. After installation, it started to function on 24 February 2005. The delay beyond the initial forecasts was caused by the need to overcome the technical problems illustrated above. To this end, the company obtained a six-month extension of the deadline of the Microfinishing project. The project ended with the experimental stage for optimising the product and the process, involving the products manufactured with the Bi+Fusion system, which would thus undergo the micro-finishing process. Specifically, these were the Loft, Lastrica, Bi+Mix, Slate Valley, Contemporanea and Natura ranges, that is to say the company’s whole production with the exception of the North Wind range. The project was properly completed in December 2005.

The main environmental problem targeted is the recycling route of heterogeneous vitreous waste, like fly ashes from metallurgical operations, glass commodities and lamps. As a matter of fact, state of the art technology lacks of an effective end use for unsorted recovered glass, in particular for glass which can present strong contamination levels deriving from glass-ceramics or ceramic materials.
In Europe and worldwide there is an excess of heterogeneous glass-based waste, whose recycle poses technological problems since this waste is not suitable for defect-free glass products, and typical glass recycling is preferentially made using cullets or own produced waste glass, rather than relying on non homogenous sources.

The same applies to other silica-containing and partially vitreous waste. To give an idea of the dimension of the environmental problem related to heterogeneous glass alone, in Europe, 25.5 billion glass bottles and jars were recycled in 2008 in EU27, and almost 11.5 million of tons of glass packaging was collected all over Europe (Including Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). As stated before, cullets are used for recycling; their treatment foreseen that 23-25% of the total amount of cullets end up as waste in landfills.
Those figures are already referred to glass coming for qualified sources. Thus, even if waste differentiation and collection is increasingly becoming a good practice in Europe, there is still a lack of proper recycling technologies (not only from the feasibility point of view, but also from the environmental and economical point of view).

The aim of the project is the valorisation of various waste materials, now disposed of, for the production of innovative construction materials (bricks, panels, wall coverings, internal and external flooring) for high-performance buildings in terms of weight and thermal insulation, using an innovative low temperature (<750 ° C) reactive sintering production cycle. The waste, which we will use in amounts exceeding 90% in weight in the mixture, will be composed of silica vitreous phases (dusts from steelworks and heterogeneous glass, from different production sectors) and reactive blowing agents (carbonates, carbides or compounds containing C residue and food industry processing residues), or space holders (sodium chloride) that will be used, regardless of their colour or contamination by foreign materials. The innovative mixture and relevant low temperature sintering method will make it possible to obtain the products in a very short time (maximum 30 minutes) with energy savings. The principle of reactive oversintering is based on the fact that above the normal sintering temperature (bricks 1000 ° C, sanitary ware 1250 ° C, other building materials 1400 ° C), the materials tend to swell in a manner that is usually uncontrollable. In other words, the process that at lower temperatures causes the gradual decrease of the porosity, at higher temperatures it generates new porosity, especially if this process is accompanied by the development of gaseous phases (arising from the blowing agents). This phenomenon, which leads to the deformation of the piece, if controlled, can instead be used conveniently to produce porous materials, such as expanded clay. That product, however, does not have constant shape or size, which is required for construction material. In this regard, the innovation of the proponent, makes it possible to exploit the high presence of a low melting phase, such as that resulting from silica waste, mixed with a higher melting phase (quartz, feldspar), which will make up the skeleton of the final product and will maintain the shape and the desired size, all in the presence of small quantities (3-5%) of blowing agents reactive to the firing temperatures.

  • Formulations of mixtures containing at least 90% of vitreous materials and glass formers, deriving from the waste of steelmaking processes and from the disposal of glass products and contaminated by ceramic and saline materials;
  • Study of the grinding and mixing process of the mixture with siliceous–quartz-blowing agents-feldsparquartz- clay-and-rejects and development of predictive models of the particle size of the mixture in relation to the wet grinding time;
  • Reactive oversintering tests in a muffle furnace and development of predictive models of porosity in relation to particle sizes, forming pressure and firing temperature/time;
  • Definition of 3 types of products with different levels of expansion and construction of the mill; tests of grinding and production of three types of mixtures;
  • Atomization of the mixture;
  • Sizing of moulds for uniaxial pressing for the production of panels, bricks, walls and slabs: forming and post-forming drying tests and preparation of samples;
  • Glazing with decorative enamels or cool colors to increase the albedo;
  • Programming of the firing curve in roller kiln and reactive oversintering tests;
  • Definition of the finishing parameters and straightening tests on fired samples;
  • Water washing to solubilise the salt present in the sintered product with open porosity and recovery of the salt by means of hot air from the cooling section of the furnace;
  • Tests of the joint operation of the various stations and analysis of the output product;
  • Acquisition of operating data, mass and energy balance and assessment of the main environmental indicators; identification of recycling procedures and simplified LCA;
  • Reintroduction in the mixture of fired materials or materials from the straightening process; product coloring tests.
  • Dissemination of the objectives and results to public and private sectors. Disseminative materials bearing LIFE logo and references to the project and to Life program.

The main expected results is the recycling of 3 m3 of waste per day, also contaminated with salts or ceramic materials, which currently do not have any economically viable application, because of their heterogeneity and the production of high technological value products. New products will:

  • Consist of at least 90% of waste product;
  • Be obtained by a production cycle that foresees low temperature reactive sintering, so as to maintain an embodied Energy estimated at about 5 MJ / kg;
  • Have apparent density between 0.4 and 1.2 g/cm3, consisting of closed and not interconnected porosity;
  • Have thermal conductivity variable between 0.16 and 0.21 W / m K, with excellent performance in line with lightened ceramic materials such as Poroton®;
  • Have compression strength of at least 2.7 MPa, they may be used in structural applications with low loads or as self supporting elements. Their use will be indicated for external walls;
  • Be much safer for health than rock fiber or glass fiber panels, the danger of which is still under investigation;
  • Be completely recyclable at the end of their useful life, by simple grinding and reintroduction into the production cycle;
  • Lead to a significant reduction of solid waste products because eventual waste could be reused;
  • Consume up to 30% less energy;
  • Be mass colored with natural colors or superficially colored, also with glazes to increase the albedo (reflectivity to solar radiation, λ <2.5 μm) and the emissivity in the infrared (mid and far infrared, λ> 2.5 μm), e.g. for applications in cool roofs (Intelligent Energy Europe Programme).

The project permitted to achieve results of absolute importance; in fact it has allowed to demonstrate a technique that allows to realize construction elements of two different types (the first more expanded and the second pressed and more compact) using glass waste and other products resulting from recycling.

In particular the new products:

  • Are composed at least at 90% of scraps and waste products;
  • Are obtained by a production cycle that foresees low temperature reactive sintering, so as to maintain an embodied Energy estimated at about 5 MJ / kg;
  • Have apparent density between 0.4 and 1.2 g/cm3;
  • Have thermal conductivity variable between 0.16 and 0.21 W/mK, with excellent insulating performance, especially as regards the expanded products;
  • Have compression strength of at least 2.7 MPa and so can be used in structural applications with low loads or as self supporting elements;
  • Are insulating elements with no fiber inside and that do not disperse powders and so are much bio-compatible with health than fiber-based products;
  • Are completely recyclable at the end of their useful life by simple grinding and reintroduction into the production cycle;
  • Lead to a significant reduction of solid waste products because eventual waste could be reused;
  • Lead to a significant reduction in energy consumption (up to 30%) thank to the great lowering of sintering temperature;
  • Can be colored both in mass, as regard expanded products, and superficially, as regard pressed products.

The project started as planned on 1 August 2014 and ended as planned on 31 January 2017.

The first months of the project were devoted to defining the management and monitoring aspects of the project itself. The hierarchical process for the attribution of responsibilities and the definition of decisions has been identified, creating a Steering Committee and a Monitoring Team that have followed the project throughout its journey to avoid wasting time and delays, as well as identifying and quickly overcome all the issues that have necessarily arisen.

Action B.1 has started regularly according to the programmed timings and already in the early stages of the project the sources of raw materials and second ones have been identified and in particular: silicon dusts deriving from metallurgical powders, glassy materials, glassware or ceramic pottery Contaminated, lime by filters and other foaming agents. Several suppliers have been identified, minimizing proximity to the proponents in order to contain polluting emissions associated with transport. A long series of tests allowed the identification of a basic glassy blend, low melting temperature (850 ° C), and three types of porousity agent: silicon carbide, calcium carbonate, and salt. The first two are expanding agents that are activated by temperature, the third is inserted into the dough and does not undergo any variation in firing but leaves the porosity when removed through a hot water bath.

Actions B.2 e B.3
The identified raw materials were then used for the following preparation tests: the mixture should in fact be ground to wet to allow for the granulometry suitable for forming the elements by means of one axial pressing, so it needs atomization before it can be handled in the form of dust. This phase was carried out through partnerships with companies outside the partnership. Once the powder is obtained, abrasive properties have been studied in order to predict the behavior of traditional molds and to increase their abrasion resistance. The pressing phase ,although it experienced through the use of a traditional axial uni press, It has been subjected to fine-tuning as far as the operating pressure is concerned: the mix of new raw materials has a radically different plasticity compared to traditional ceramic products and therefore has a very different behavior, containing very low amounts of clay. Therefore, they were obtained and perfectly replicated green products which were then subjected to surface decoration tests with different techniques: roller enamelling, bell, airbrush, digital printing. At the same time, the sample firing tests continued with a laboratory kiln and then pre-industrial tests were carried out. The sintering tests carried out with a small roller furnace made it possible to better monitor the process and the excellent results allowed them to perform such tests in the production kiln. The sintering tests carried out with a small roller furnace made it possible to better monitor the process and the excellent results allowed them to perform such tests in the production kiln. The actions were completed by obtaining samples containing 88.1% of waste material fired at 800 ° C for pressed samples and 850 ° C for non-pressed samples, an apparent density of between 0.4 and 1.2 g / Cm3, a thermal conductivity between 0.16 and 0.21 W / m K and a compression strength of at least 2.7 MPa.

Action B.4
The recycling process was carried out on non-pressed samples. First of all, the samples were subjected to dry milling in the laboratory in order to reuse the powder obtained in the formulations. Through an experimental plan that considered all the possible variables (milling time,% of weight of waste within the isothermal formulation and temperature), it was possible to evaluate the maximum recyclable content within the mixture. It was then decided to define the end-of-life procedures of the new products by carrying out the appropriate tests that at the end led to the identification of the best procedure. Subsequent tests have allowed the characterization of the products obtained through the recycling of the re-milled new materials. The realization of samples from recycled materials has been successful. Recycled samples can be used in formulations to create low-temperature ceramics characterized by low porosity and high apparent density.

Action B.5
Technically the project ended with the drafting of the LCA and the mass energy balance that they have confirmed. The simplified LCA study allowed the quantification of the impacts associated with the categories analysed and the identification of the most impacting contributions of the supply chains of the panel LIFE product. The results calculated using the ReCipe 2008 method highlighted that the main contributors are associated with the manufacturing phase, i.e. for the category Climate change the energy supply in the plant accounts for approx. 34% of impact due to heat and 18% due to electricity. Approx. 33% is attributable to emissions released during the process of firing. A comparison with the state of the art has also been performed and revealed that the panel presents significantly lower impacts then the material used for the comparison.



Sustainable recycling in polyvalent use of energy saving building elements



The LIFE ECLAT project is the outcome of the encounter between a business enterprise, Ceramica Fondovalle, and an university, Università degli Studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia, having in common their concern with environmental issues, that seek innovative solutions to mitigate and reduce the environmental impact of industrial activities.
The main aim of the LIFE ECLAT project is to realize and validate the principles of the circular economy approach to the manufacturing of endless revolutionary ceramic slabs for tiles, kitchen tops, bathroom countertops.
In the framework of its LIFE+ programme, the European Commission immediately recognised the environmental and innovative potential of the LIFE ECLAT project and granted the partners a financial support.

LIFE15 ENV/IT/000369

The European Commission adopted on 2 December 2015 an ambitious Circular Economy Package, which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe’s transition towards a circular economy which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs.
The Circular Economy Package consists of an EU Action Plan for the Circular Economy that establishes a concrete and ambitious programme of action, with measures covering the whole cycle: from production and consumption to waste management and the market for secondary raw materials. The Action plan sets out the timeline when the actions will be completed.
The proposed actions will contribute to “closing the loop” of product lifecycles through greater recycling and re-use, and bring benefits for both the environment and the economy.

The revised legislative proposals on waste set clear targets for reduction of waste and establish an ambitious and credible longterm path for waste management and recycling. Key elements of the revised waste proposal include:

  • A common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030;
  • A binding landfill target to reduce landfill to maximum of 10% of municipal waste by 2030;
  • A ban on landfilling of separately collected waste;
  • Promotion of economic instruments to discourage landfilling;
  • Simplified and improved definitions and harmonised calculation methods for recycling rates throughout the EU;
  • Concrete measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis - turning one industry’s by-product into another industry’s raw material;
  • Economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes (eg for packaging, batteries, electric and electronic equipments, vehicles).

    At the date, the following legislative proposals on waste have been adopted:
  • Proposed Directive on Waste;
  • Proposed Directive on Packaging Waste;
  • Proposed Directive on Landfill;
  • Proposed Directive on electrical and electronic waste, on end-of-life vehicles, and batteries and accumulators and waste batteries and accumulators.

Benefits of the circular economy
The Circular economy offers an opportunity to reinvent our economy, making it more sustainable and competitive. This will bring benefits for European businesses, industries, and citizens alike. With this new plan to make Europe’s economy cleaner and more competitive, the Commission is delivering ambitious measures to cut resource use, reduce waste and boost recycling.

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The objective of the project was to apply and validate the principles of the circular economy approach to the manufacturing of endless revolutionary ceramic slabs for tiles, kitchen tops, bathroom countertops.
The aim was the closing of the manufacturing cycle, starting from the incoming atomized powders, leading to the finished products by means of mechanical and thermal processes, up to the recycling of end of life products claimed by deconstruction operations or production waste.
The project intended to joint in an integrated system the new forming process using belt pressing of atomized powders, a dry decoration plant, a subsequent dry cutting and dry surface preparation: so, all the possible waste generated during the processes till now described should be comparable to starting raw materials and therefore reusable directly in the same productive cycle. Finally, the packaging system has been modified so as to minimize the waste generation or the consumption of resources: the smaller formats packaging is produced on site and “on demand”; regarding the slabs as they are, was necessary to study an innovative automatic warehouse for an effective handling and particular reusable easels for the shipment. Very important was the result in the reduction of cardboard and wood utilization for packaging compared to the traditional process.

The obtained results were mainly of environmental and technical nature and the project allowed us to obtain:

  1. No solid or liquid waste emitted by the new process and complete internal recycling of the waste produced: is possible to avoid the generation of 1 Kg of sludge deriving from cutting and polishing and 2,5 Kg of sintered waste per m2 of slab produced;
  2. No water use in finishing operations (green cutting, green polishing), with consequent energy saving connected to the relative handling. In the traditional process is necessary to use about 1,57 m3 of water per m2 of slabs;
  3. Lower energy consumption: -32% (about 60 kWh/m2) calculated on the whole productive cycle and about -50% referred only to cutting and polishing operations;
  4. Use of up to 40% of recycled raw materials;
  5. Complete recyclability of the final product and its reinsertion in the manufacturing process, requiring only milling operations;
  6. Full recycling, as it is, of the powder produced during the new cycle, by simple dry re-milling and repressing in the base material;
  7. Increase of the productivity of 28% in cutting operations, due to the lower wear resistance of the pressed slabs with respect to the sintered ones;
  8. Cost saving in packaging operation;
  9. Reduction of CO2 emissions: up to 24 kg/m2 of product (936 tons of CO2/year*).
  10. .
*: estimation for a demonstrative line of 130 m2/day operating 300 days/year

In order to achieve these important results, the project was divided in activities, all positively completed:

  1. Design of an “eco” composition of ceramic body, able to withstand green machining after belt pressing and containing recycled materials up to 40% in weight in its own composition;
  2. Design and adaptation of variable height belt pressing system, with both smooth or structured belt, for forming operations and preliminary green decoration system;
  3. Design and adaptation of green machining equipment and tools, composed of two cutting stations;
  4. Optimization of firing curves of large size slabs to maintain planarity and control shrinkage;
  5. Design and adaptation of a “packaging on demand” system for smaller formats and design and realization of the handling, storage, taking and packaging system for the big slabs, with design and realization of dedicated transportation easels;
  6. Definition of best practice for installation and deinstallation of the new ceramic slabs, together with end of life procedures; LCA compared to state of the art slabs (ceramic or polymer based ones).

The project started on 01/10/2016 and is regularly terminated on 30/09/2019.

The first technical activities concerned the identification of different elements suitable to create the right mix of second raw materials, most of which are obtained from recycled waste, In order to obtain a composition that could be easily worked "in green" (that is, before the sintering phase of the article), in an environmentally friendly way and in such a way that "tolerant" the variability of these materials in terms of recycled dust and/or re-used plates (after further grinding).

After adequate characterization, all the selected waste materials were introduced in multiple ceramic formulations each having specific roles, uses and functions, also taking into consideration the "production" of the mixture, the dimensions of the production lots, the transport costs of the raw materials and second, the need to have an almost constant chemical composition, all to obtain the most efficient mixes from an environmental point of view. All this happened in the company laboratories, starting from the creation of the classic "buttons", that is small round-shaped tiles obtained with laboratory presses and sintered in a small electric static oven.

Repeated testing sessions have allowed to optimize these mixes and to hypothesize production parameters to be verified later on appropriate size.

Following the optimization of these mixtures (virgin raw materials and recycled materials) and the relative process parameters that allowed us to obtain ceramic products with at least 40% by weight of second life materials, suitable for belt pressing and green processing.

The particles obtained after atomization have correct spherical shape; the compound leaves correctly with maximum moisture content of 6% by drying process“spray”, has good smoothness (indispensable during compaction), characteristics comparable to the powders of virgin raw materials used today for the production of porcelain stoneware.

Prototypes of three different products have been developed for density, thermal expansion coefficient, colour and mechanical properties. All the types have been created by comparing the traditional composition of porcelain stoneware: this has allowed to make the new products absolutely comparable, for mechanical characteristics, with the traditional twins. This will allow a faster industrialization phase and a more immediate commercial launch.

Between the research of materials and the experimentation on products, there was an intense phase of development of the powder preparation processes, preparatory to all the subsequent project steps, until its conclusion. The blends identified were therefore subjected to conventional atomisation treatment, carried out by third party suppliers, which treated the dusts according to the specifications. The recycled material has been ground and spiked with clay, feldspar, quartz sand and talc, obtaining samples with high density and low water absorption, as required by the control protocols of porcelain stoneware, in the plant which is normally used for production.

Once the pre-preparation phase of raw materials was completed, the phase of plant modifications was initiated.

The plant for the storage and transport of spray atomized (characterized by a moisture content of about 5/6%) has been realized, consisting of storage silos, hoppers handling, sieves that eliminate any impurities, and dosing units at the beginning of the line.

The compaction process (belt pressing) was developed and the dust loading system and the "green" processing system (cut-to-measure raw, that is, before firing) was implemented. The press is carried out using the SACMI belt system already present in the valley floor plant (Continua+) where a carpet is made continuous thickness between 5 and 25 mm strong enough to be subjected to subsequent processing in "green". An innovative system for loading raw materials and pigments has been added upstream, able to decorate the product dry and in mass. This means that the new tile will be decorated in all its thickness (as for natural products), so that it can be polished several times after installation or installed with visible decoration on all sides (also vertical ones). In addition, the use of this technology makes it possible to avoid digital decoration, overcoming all the problems it entails. Downstream of the press belt, a raw cutting system has been developed which reduces the products to size before cooking, eliminating the use of water and grinding wheels and avoiding the formation of sludge typical of traditional plants: at the end of the process only a slight squaring will be necessary. The use of a special belt has allowed to obtain in press a surface sufficiently smooth to avoid lapping in matt products (also avoiding waste of water and abrasive and the formation of sludge).Only polishing will be necessary to obtain the mirror effect. This made it possible to avoid the introduction of the raw surface treatment station assumed at the beginning of the project. Dust extraction systems for dry cutting operations and the post-finishing compaction scrap recovery system were developed. A dust extraction system has been developed to recycle all the particle residues present in the plant, conveying them into the raw material recovery system.

The right drying curve for each product and the associated cooking curves has been identified: the humidity after pressing is 5/6% and should be increased to 1%, penalty breakage problems during sintering for instant evaporation of the water contained in the tile body. A number of product samples were produced which, also from a commercial point of view, were very positive.

The samples have been subjected to post-firing processing to verify the potential of the products: they have been subjected to light squaring and polishing with effects similar to traditional products.

The packaging system with low resources consumption for smaller products has been adapted.

For the slabs as they are, instead, we have realized ad hoc a very innovative system able to handle the slabs with anthropomorphic systems and store them on a reduced surface of 90% compared to the traditional systems. Finally, we have modified the system of transport from crates to reusable stands: all this has allowed us to greatly reduce the waste due to breaks and risks during transport. In addition, the stands have been designed so that we can be sent back for a prolonged re-use, all for the benefit of environmental and economic sustainability.

Finally, to crown all this work, semi-industrial tests were carried out on all the equipment, simultaneously making samples necessary for marketing and measures that allowed to elaborate the LCA study which highlighted the environmental potential of the project.

The advantages obtained and confirmed by the LCA study are:

  • Recycling of all solid and liquid waste produced and therefore no external emissions. This corresponds to a reduction of 0.9 kg/m2 of cutting and polishing sludge on a dry basis which is now disposed in dumps and about 2.5 kg/m2 of fired waste (broken during the cutting of defective slabs);
  • No use of water for cutting and finishing operations, now made in dry mode. The saving is about 1.57 m3 of water per m2 of product. The expected result was 0.8;
  • Lower energy consumption: -32% (about 60 kWh/m2) calculated over the entire production cycle (50% considering only the cut and the surface finish);
  • Use of recycled materials in the mix, up to a maximum of 40% by weight;
  • Complete recyclability of finished products;
  • Complete recyclability of the powders produced during dry processing, reinserted as they are in the process;
  • Productivity of cutting operations and surface finishes increased by 28%. The improvement in performance is due to the lower resistance of the raw material and the elimination of part of the surface treatments;
  • Significant reduction in costs, deriving from packaging, storage and handling operations;
  • Reduction of CO2 emissions to the extent of 24 kg/m2;

On 19/01/2017, at the Enzo Ferrari Department of Engineering at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, the LIFE ECLAT project was presented, as part of a day dedicated to the LIFE projects in which UNIMORE is involved as a partner. [News_01]

At an event held on 11 April 2017 at the Sassuolo branch of the Confindustria Ceramica trade association, attended - amongst others - by the Italian Ministry for the Environment and the European Executive Agency for SMEs, a series of LIFE projects were presented which focussed on the environmental sustainability of the ceramics industry, including a number of Ceramica Fondovalle projects, in particular LIFE ECLAT. [News 02]

The LIFE ECLAT project was also presented at an event dedicated to 25 years of the LIFE scheme, which was held on 27/05/2017 and organised by the University of Padua's industrial engineering department. [News 03]

The first results of the LIFE ECLAT project were also explained during an event dedicated to the LIFE Programme, held on 26/05/2018 and organised by the Department of Industrial Engineering of the University of Padua. [News 04]

Participation in fairs is the best way to meet all the players in the sector in a short time and in the most profitable way. The LIFE ECLAT project was presented at the most important trade fairs worldwide, regularly attended by all European ceramic tile and plant manufacturers.

We took part at Coverings 2107 (Orlando, USA, 4th-7th April 2017) and Cersaie 2017 (Bologna, Italy, 25th-29th September 2017) trade fairs.

Please visit us at Coverings 2018 (Atlanta, USA, 8th-11th May 2018) and Cersaie 2018 (Bologna, Italy, 24th-28th September 2018) for more info on LIFE ECLAT Project.