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Building Bikes from Recycled Plastic

Article-Building Bikes from Recycled Plastic

Image courtesy of igus Feature.jpg
The plastics-for-motion company, igus, has created a bike made entirely of recycled plastic. Plus, the bike is 100% recyclable.

igus has created a bicycle made entirely of recycled plastic. The company is taking the bundle of engineering concepts and components for building plastic bicycles and making it available to all bicycle manufacturers via the igus bike platform. The first bike made of recycled plastics will be available commercially by the end of the year.

As a company that produces plastic tools for motion systems, igus is aware of the urgent need to move away from the traditional linear economic model. Ultimately, manufacturers need to migrate to a fully circular economy.

The bike is primarily made of reused plastics that were originally single-use materials. The materials were not designed for recyclability. Using that plastic to create consumer products turns waste into usable material. “The topic of sustainability, which igus has been working on consistently for years, is a decisive driver of the igus bike project,” Frank Blase, CEO at igus, told Design News. “The goal is to make plastic waste recyclable. We can turn waste into valuable material. We’re using this process to recycle waste from our e-chains.”

Facing Design Challenges

Lightweight, lubrication-free high-performance plastics are used in all parts of the bicycle, from two-component ball bearings in the wheel bearings to plain bearings in the seat post, brake levers, and pedals. All of these components have integrated solid lubricants and ensure low-friction dry operation that requires no lubricating oil. This ensures that sand, dust, and dirt do not impede performance.

Each aspect of the bike had to be considered anew for engineers to meet the 100%-plastic goal. “One of the biggest technical challenges was the development of a drive unit made of plastic,” said Blase. “The result was a unique two-speed planetary gear made of solid plastic. This was combined with a freewheel and a pulley made of solid plastic.”

If the bike is all plastic, that includes brakes and bearings. “The brakes were also a challenge. We developed a novel brake mechanism made entirely of plastic, including the lever,” said Blase. “We were able to use the 3D printing technology. The next challenge was the wheel bearing. Metallic bearings were replaced by xiros plastic bearings that are wear-resistant, resilient, and simply quiet.”

Recycled Materials Can Also Be Recyclable

As well as creating a consumer product entirely made of recycled plastic, igus took on the additional goal of making the bike 100% recyclable. “If the bicycle is to be made of 100% recycled plastic, then the bicycle should then also be 100% recyclable,” said Blase. “We’re already working on a children's bicycle together with its MTRL. The prototype was displayed at the igus booth at the Hanover Fair. The next step is to develop an e-bike that will make the bike smart.”

So, does the bike project mean igus is entering the bike market? “No, igus is not becoming a bicycle manufacturer. We’re working closely with companies that have that share our aspirations in sustainability and the recycling of plastic waste,” said Blasé. “For example, we worked with MTRL to develop the igus bike. We provided the open platform MTRL used to develop bicycles made of plastic.”

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