Polyvinyl alcohol size recovery and reuse via vacuum flash evaporation

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Gupta, Kishor Kumar
Cook, Fred L.
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Polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) desize effluent is a high COD contributor to towel manufacturing plant's Primary Oxygenation Treatment of Water operation, and being non-biodegradable, is a threat to the environment. When all-PVA/wax size is used in weaving, significant incentives exist to recover the synthetic polymer material from the desize wash water stream and reuse it. A new technology that would eliminate the disadvantages of the current Reverse Osmosis Ultrafiltration (UF) PVA recovery process is Vacuum Flash Evaporation (VFE). This research adapts the VFE process to the recovery and reuse of all-PVA size emanating from towel manufacturing, and compares the economics of its implementation in a model plant to current plant systems that use PVA/starch blend sizes with no materials/water recovery. After bench scale research optimized the VFE PVA recovery process from the desize effluent and determined the mass of virgin PVA that was required to be added to the final, recycled PVA size formulations. The physical changes in the recycled size film and yarn composite properties from those of the initial (conventional) slashing were determined using a number of characterization techniques, including DSC, TGA, SEM, tensile testing, viscometry, number of abrasion cycles to first yarn breaks, microscopy and contact angle measurements. Cotton chemical impurities extracted from the yarns during desizing played an important role in the recovered PVA film physical properties. The recovered PVA improved the slashed yarn weave ability. Along with recovered PVA, pure hot water was recovered from the VFE. Virgin wax adds to the final, recycled size formulations were determined to be unnecessary, as the impurities extracted into the desize effluent stream performed the same functions in the size as the wax. Using the bench results, the overall VFE process was optimized and demonstrated to be technically viable through six cycles, proof-of-concept trials conducted on a Webtex Continuous Pilot Slasher. Based on the pilot scale trials, comparative economics were developed. Incorporation of the VFE technology for PVA size recovery and recycling resulted in ~$3.2M/year in savings over the conventional PVA/starch/wax process, yielding a raw ROI of less than one year based on a $3M turnkey capital investment.
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