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Europe leads in car-parts recycling.

European car manufacturers and resin suppliers are moving aggressively, through a broad range of projects, to implement plastics recycling in daily production use. Most of the action is in Germany--pushed by pending legislation--but auto-parts recycling is also moving ahead in France and Italy. Meanwhile, here at home, recycling activities are more low-key and at the research stage.

The main ongoing activities here appear to be the recent formation of an Automotive Group within the Durables Committee of the new Partnership for Plastics Progress, based in Washington, D.C. (see PT, March '92, p. 72), and a research project on SMC recycling by the SMC Automotive Alliance, Bloomfield Hills, Mich. (PT, April '90, p. 7). At the same time, the European branches of firms such as General Motors, Ford, and Himont Inc. are moving much faster with practical recycling activities abroad.

This contrasting picture was reinforced by a day-long recycling seminar at the recent Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) conference in Detroit, and a visit to the headquarters of Adam Opel AG, part of General Motors Europe, in Russelsheim, Germany.


Opel has been preparing for recycling since at least 1979, when it began coding all its plastic parts to identify the generic material. Since 1990, Opel has implemented three materials recycling "loops" and is developing several more. One involves combining PP from battery cases and bumpers to make new fender liners, bumper carriers, and air-filter housings. A second turns polycarbonate/PBT blend from old painted bumpers into new spoiler supports. And a third "loop" converts ground-up urethane foam seating material into sound-insulating mats on the inside of the hood and on the engine-compartment bulkhead. For all of GM Europe, the latter application alone could consume 660,000 lb/yr of PUR. Other "loops" in development include the acrylic taillight lenses and turn-signal lamps. Reclaiming HDPE fuel tanks is under study but may prove challenging, owing to fuel permeation into the plastic.

According to Peter Zumbroich, staff engineer for recycling activities at Opel's Technical Development Center, Opel and sister firm Vauxhall in England are using around 3.5 million lb/yr of recycled automotive plastics. By next year that requirement could mushroom to 44 million lb/yr.

The new Opel Astra, shown in the accompanying photos, includes at least nine components recycled from other Opel cars, and a further 20 components of recycled plastics are in testing and will shortly go into volume production.

Reducing polymer variety and eliminating thermosets are key elements of Opel's design-for-recycling plan. Most of the new plastic parts on the Astra were designed in PP for easy recyclability. In fact, Opel is concentrating on using PP as extensively as possible--it now constitutes 34% of the plastics weight in the Astra, or 88 lb. Both the Astra and the new Volkswagen Golf A3 have all-PP interiors, the beginning of what looks like a trend in European cars. Likewise, Opel is making bumpers with all five major components--including fascia, support, and expanded-bead foam filler--in PP, and has eliminated metal inserts to facilitate recycling.

Opel has set up a pilot car dismantling center at Russelsheim to try out special methods and tools. Design for efficient dismantling has become a key priority. On the latest models, one person can remove 42 lb of parts--all in pure PP with no metal inserts--in 4 min. The newly designed rear bumper can be stripped in just 20 sec.

Since December 1990, 39 Opel dealers in the Rhine/Main region have had been collecting used batteries and other plastic parts in special recycling containers. Opel plans to expand the program to all of Europe. Opel is also participating in a program of the German Automobile Club (ADAC) to give car owners in the Stuttgart area a "pro-environmental" means of disposing of cars, which are then dismantled for recycling. And for the 1992 Astra, Opel is offering to take back all used vehicles free of charge.


Opel is not alone among German car manufacturers, which have been spurred by proposed legislation from the Federal Environment Minister, which would require car makers to dispose of their used vehicles and set a target of 25% of the weight of plastics on their cars to be made from recycled materials by 1994. Opel officials expect this to become law either this year or next. Some industry observers think this will serve as a model for the whole European Community.

The German Car Manufacturers Association (VDA), together with European resin suppliers, has formed a project group called PRAVDA, which stands for Car Recycling of the German Car Industry. Besides Opel's, at least three other pilot dismantling and recycling plants have been set up in Germany by VW in Leer, BMW in Landshut and Ford in Cologne-Niehl. An independent pilot project near Berlin, sponsored by the Federal Environment Minister and the Technical Inspection Association (TUV) reportedly will employ about 40 workers to dismantle around 30 cars per day. Some experts predict that in two or three years there will be about 100 sites in Germany for auto dismantling and shredding.

As reported earlier, VW is using recycled bumpers in production on its VW Polo (PT, March '92, p. 72). And both VW and Ford have takeback arrangements similar to Opel's for selected vehicles. (BMW also has a pilot takeback program in three U.S. cities, in cooperation with the Automotive Dismantlers and Recycling Association in Fairfax, Va. Owners who turn in their BMWs are offered $500 toward a new or used BMW.)

Elsewhere in Europe, The PSA group (Peugeot-Citroen), together with several others, is completing pilot trials in France of a comprehensive auto recycling program, which includes burning unusable plastic "fluff" as fuel for cement kilns. Renault of France has a TPO bumper recycling program operated jointly with Cookson of England (which recycles batteries). Fiat of Italy is also reported to be building dismantling centers, and has joined with PSA, EniChem and ICI in a project called RECAP to increase recycling in both auto manufacturing and scrapping.

At least one Japanese car maker, Nissan, is conducting research on PP bumper recycling (PT, Oct. '91, p. 14), and there are industry reports of interest from Toyota and Honda, as well.

(Some of the above information was obtained from the Canadian Plastics Institute, Don Mills, Ontario, and the consulting firm of Charles River Associates in Boston.)


As indicated above, resin suppliers are taking an active role with the car companies in many recycling projects. Opel is working with HM Konsortium fur Werkstoff-Recycling in Dusseldorf, a joint venture of Huls AG and Metallgesellschaft AG. The consortium is dedicated to developing technologies for durable-goods recycling.

Hoechst AG in Germany hopes to supply some of Opel's growing need for recycled PP. Hoechst just opened an 11-million-lb/yr pilot plant near Cologne exclusively for producing recycled PP materials. The company also has a developmental process for recycling acetal by depolymerizing it to monomer and then repolymerizing it (analogous to processes being used for PET). Hoechst is awaiting an environmental permit from the German government to implement the new technology on a large scale.

And in Italy, Himont has a mobile recycling center, consisting of a truck with a crane and shredder to collect PP-based automotive scrap. The truck will supply material for over 20 million lb/yr of a new line of recycled resin products, called Refax.

There are indications that the ability to supply recycled materials will become a competitive advantage for resin companies serving the automotive sector. For example, according to Charles River Associates, DSM of the Netherlands negotiated sales of TPO bumper compound to VW partly on the basis of its commitment to recycle. DSM owns Reko BV, the Dutch recycler that reprocessed used Volkswagen bumpers.


In Germany, a group of materials suppliers and compounders formed ERCOM Composite Recycling at the end of 1990, dedicated to developing a thermoset recycling infrastructure. Specially designed trucks, fitted with pre-grinding equipment, will pick up and grind scrap, and then deliver it to BWR Werkstoffsysteme und Fahrzeugbau GmbH, a DSM subsidiary in Rastatt. There, the scrap is more finely ground, and the fractions are used to replace fillers and/or glass fiber in thermoset or thermoplastic compounds. A second permanent thermoset regrinding station is being considered in France.

At SAE, Rogers Corp. of Manchester, Conn., reported that up to 10-15% of reground phenolic can be used as fillers in new phenolic compounds without any sacrifice in performance properties. As much as 50% regrind can be used where lesser properties can be tolerated. Rogers also reported that smaller regrind particle sizes yielded the best properties. In Asia, especially Japan, some reground phenolics are being used as a filler in concrete. And as with polyester SMC, conversion to a fuel by pyrolysis was also found to be viable option for phenolics. (CIRCLE 14)
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Title Annotation:Pricing Update
Author:Naitove, Matthew H.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:May 1, 1992
Previous Article:Many moves in thermoplastics, thermosets.
Next Article:Strategic partners in DCPD RIM.

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