Agreement seeks to make recycling pay

Argonne National Laboratory, the American Plastics Council and the Vehicle Recycling Partnership of USCAR have signed a five-year co-operative research agreement into recycling plastics from disused cars.

Argonne National Laboratory, the American Plastics Council and the Vehicle Recycling Partnership of USCAR, a consortium of DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors, have signed a research agreement into recycling plastics from disused cars.

‘This project brings together the American Plastics Council’s knowledge of polymers and recycling processes, Argonne’s research expertise and USCAR’s understanding of the marketplace,’ said Harvey Drucker, Argonne’s associate laboratory director. ‘Together as a team, we can lead the development of viable solutions to the vehicle recycling challenges of today and the future.’

With greater demands for better fuel economy and lower emissions, manufacturers are incorporating increasing amounts of lightweight and non-metallic materials into vehicles.

At the end of their serviceable lives, about 15 million vehicles annually are discarded and sent to recycling companies for shredding. Much of the non-metallic materials in end-of-life vehicles cannot now be recycled due to the difficulty of separating and sorting the materials as well as a lack of existing markets and applications for recycled non-metallics.

This leftover ‘shredder residue,’ which makes up about 25 percent of every disused vehicle, must then be landfilled at a significant cost to the vehicle recycler. The agreement aims at changing that situation.

A new pilot recycling facility already operating at Argonne will serve as a focal point for the broader research that will be conducted by the partners.

Argonne’s new pilot facility incorporates two processes; the first is a bulk separation process that separates shredder residues into four categories: fines (iron oxides, other oxides, glass and dirt), polyurethane foams, a mixed plastics concentrate of polymers (polypropylene, polyethylene, ABS, nylon, PVC, polyester, and other materials) and residual metals.

The second process is a fully continuous plastics separation system that will demonstrate the selective recovery of specific plastics from the mixed plastics concentrates produced by the bulk separation process.

Argonne previously developed a process for recycling the polyurethane foams that are recoverable from shredder residues. This process is being demonstrated at a commercial scale in Europe.

‘Vehicle recycling can be a self-sustaining process that pays for itself in the US,’ concluded Mike Fisher, director of technology for the American Plastics Council.