number of used cars, so-called End of Life Vehicles (ELVs), in Western
Europe is expected to soar from around seven million per year at present
to around 10 million by 2015. While most of the raw materials, ranging
from metals and glass to plastics, can be recycled, reused or recovered,
a large proportion, including around two million tonnes of residue from
car shredders, still finds its way as waste into landfill sites. This
makes the car industry one of the biggest users of landfill.
is neither desirable or sustainable. EU legislation is both seeking to
reduce drastically the amount of overall waste that is dumped in landfill
sites and step up the proportion of cars that are recycled, reused or
Directive on End of Life Vehicles, of which the final form was agreed
by EU ministers and the European Parliament in May 2000, is the main catalyst
for Europe's car makers to improve their performance. It places the responsibility
on manufacturers to take back and scrap cars in the future with the obligation
starting for all new cars put on the market after 1 July 2002, and for
existing cars from January 2007.
also calls for the proportion, by weight, of a car which is recycled and
reused to reach 85% by 2005 and the proportion which is reused or recovered
to reach a minimum of 95% by the same deadline.
legislation, such as the
Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), which
forces industrial plants and processing companies to clean up their overall
pollution performance, has focused some research on improving the environmental
performance of scrap smelting.
and the European economy
the scrap industry has a less than glamorous moth-eaten image, associated
in some countries with door-to-door callers and horse carts, it
is in fact a sizable sector with an estimated 20,000 companies Europe-wide
involved in collecting, dismantling, and shredding waste. While
many of these are small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), the
more capital intensive shredding business is a haven for a few hundred
of the continent's biggest companies are involved in the drive to
reduce waste. Apart from car manufacturers faced with the deadline
of an EU directive, many of their suppliers, including major European
plastics and chemicals companies, are taking part in research on
how to increase recycling and reuse.
research efforts in this field have possibly given it a lead over
the USA and Japan. "There is probably an advance over the USA
with the possibility of technology transfer taking place in the
future," says Pierre Picot of Lyon-based Ixas Conseil, which
co-ordinates a thematic
network on the eco-efficient treatment of plastics in end of life
vehicles. Mr Picot highlighted in particular Europe's lead in
the treatment and recovery of valuable raw materials from shredded
reuse and recycling
plastics industry claims to be the second biggest business sector
in the EU, with an annual turnover of 135
billion a year. Use by the car industry has steadily increased over
the last decade, partly because plastics offer a lighter, and often
cheaper, alternative to metals with this translating into better
fuel economy. Easily moulded plastics are often better suited to
demands for greater comfort and design. This explains in part the
rise in average plastic content of cars by 30 kg to 100 kg per vehicle
between 1977 and 1997. Although the plastics industry points to
rising levels of plastics reuse and recovery, plastics waste still
accounts for a high proportion of overall auto waste. The EU has
therefore given high priority to research projects which can tackle
While much research has been taking place at individual company
level, this has often been uncoordinated, both within sectors and
between different industries. The thematic
network brings together:
plastic resin producers
plastic parts moulders and
fill this gap with the help of EU funding. Three working groups
were created under the network umbrella, These cover:
material recycling and
shredder residue treatment and use.
companies were represented in more than one group.
Although the final results and analysis of the working groups will
not be formulated until Autumn 2000, some points where industry
performance can be improved and future EU research funding profitably
directed are already apparent.
residue a key area
The treatment of shredder residue, where many different technologies
already exist, has been picked out as a key area for further research.
An example is the identification and separation of different types
of plastics by bombarding them with infrared radiation or their
sorting by flotation techniques. The different densities of materials
causes them to separate during this process.
of the biggest challenges here is to take existing technologies
which have been tried and tested in the laboratory and apply them
to a practical, often very demanding and dirty, working environment.
need for recognised standards for the recovered materials so that
they can be confidently used again by industry is another basic
but fundamental prerequisite for meeting recycling targets. The
network will make clear proposals for follow-up research and development
and institutions involved in EU research projects aimed at cutting
waste and boosting recycling are brought together under Trawmar
(Targeted Research Action on Waste Minimisation and Recycling).
The four-year project aims at promoting the exchange of findings
and experiences in different sectors, identifying new markets for
waste materials and encouraging EU technology exports to other markets,
such as the United States and Far East.
car fuel tanks
tanks, made out of high density polyethylene, are now a feature
on more than 60% of new European cars and represent one of the biggest
plastic components. RECAFUTA,
an EU-funded research project headed by Belgian chemical company
successfully found ways of removing tanks and treating them so that
the raw material can be used again to produce new tanks. The project
is due to finish in 2000.
of the biggest challenges for recycling has been to find ways of
removing fuel residues and other coatings that accumulate on the
fuel tank during its lifetime and would otherwise taint the raw
material. A prototype for the removal of external coatings has been
developed and works very well under test conditions. Elimination
of residual fuels by solvent extraction has also been developed.
on the physical side of recycling has also advanced a long way.
A basic industrial line capable of processing one tonne of plastic
an hour is currently under development and car manufacturers have
come up with special tools that can help with the quick removal
of tanks at the start of the process. It has also been found that
a proportion of up to 40% recycled high density polyethylene (HDPE)
can be used in making new fuel tanks with no problems in the final
quality or performance.
comparison of the advantages of recycling with other options such
as burning plastic and recovering the energy, or simple landfill,
should be completed within a few months.
resistant polyamide plastics, such as Nylon, used in the demanding
environment found under the car bonnet account for between 15 and
20% of the plastics used in cars. However, because of tough quality
standards, re-use and recycling of polyamides has been very limited.
Under the EU's CRAFT programme,
a project involving Sweden's Royal
Institute of Technology and five companies investigated the
extent to which this high grade plastic can be reused.
under the COMPARE
project has found that special under-the-bonnet plastic used for
fan blades, engine guards, and hub caps can be removed. Once treated
with oxidants and impact modifiers, around 40% can be reused with
the original raw material to produce new components. In this proportion
the reused plastic should still meet the stringent quality demands
tests and economic evaluations of polyamide reuse and recycling
will continue over a nine month period to ascertain how broadly
the techniques pioneered by COMPARE can be taken up by the car industry.
plastics for recycling
industrial techniques already exist for sorting plastics for recycling.
Unfortunately, both have flaws. Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy
(LIBS) can sort plastics at high speed with 100% accuracy for some
of the most common types of plastics such as polyvinyl chloride
(PVC) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). However, it is unable
to identify other types of plastics with the same degree of accuracy.
An alternative technology using infrared beams can distinguish between
all plastics, but the process speed is painfully slow. Both processes
are also relatively expensive, with one LIBS unit costing around
research project funded under the Brite-Euram programme aims to
take the existing technology and to combine and adapt it so that
a fast, hybrid version can be found for separating plastics at high
speed. The research results will have a clear pay off for many industries
where such technology is sorely needed to differentiate between
plastics found in shredders.
Prototypes of new units will put through laboratory trials and industrial
field trials during the second half of 2000. The project is due
to end in 2001.
to their high costs and relatively easy sorting processes, metals
from ELVs have already achieved a very high level of recycling.
However, improvements in the recycling ratio should be possible
as a result of EU research.
CEMIR (Cost-effective electric motors with improved recyclability
and less environmental impact) project, funded under the Brite-Euram
programme, set out to solve a basic but nevertheless fundamental
problem affecting steel and copper recycling from electric motors
in cars. Previous designs for the armatures of electric motors meant
that they deformed and buckled when crushed during the scrapping
process but did not break, trapping the copper wire inside. CEMIR
developed a new production method using iron powder, resulting in
lighter but just as powerful armatures which broke when crushed,
releasing the copper contents.
and removal of heavy metals
down scrap metals so that they can be used again as a raw material
can create a lot of waste water tarnished by heavy metals such as
copper, zinc, lead, and nickel. While some of this matter can be
removed by an established method, known as the precipitation process
whereby alkalis are added to a tank and the metals separate out,
a high proportion of the water may still be contaminated.
many cases companies may face high costs for further treatment of
the water, or increasingly heavy eco-taxes as Europe attempts to
improve water quality. A cheap but efficient follow up treatment
was the subject of the EU-funded MERESAFIN
(Metal Removal by Sand Filter Inoculation) project.
project, co-ordinated by the Flemish
Institute for Technical Research (VITO), Belgium, developed
a more efficient and trustworthy method of waste water treatment
using bacteria which absorb or help to separate out metals present.
The method was already known but its efficiency dropped off fast
following several treatments. To overcome this problem a special
method was developed where bacteria continue to be replaced and
renewed during the treatment of waste water. The final result of
treatment is a fine sludge which, when dried, can be smelted down
with a further recovery of economically interesting levels of metals.
process has been tested successfully on an industrial scale by Belgium
non-ferrous metals company Union
Minière. Around a tenth of the waste water produced by
its various smelting processes was subject to the follow-up biological
tyres represent one of the biggest environmental problems attributable
to the car industry, with most of the millions discarded every year
finding their way into local dumps. One of the main obstacles is
economic: although recycling tyres is technically possible, it is
cheaper to start from scratch with the original raw material. One
way of cutting the pollution problem is to extend the life of existing
tyres by retreading. This procedure, which basically involves adding
a new rubber coat to existing tyres, can be applied once to cars
and several times to lorries and aircraft. However, only around
12% of European tyres are currently retreaded.
problems in the past associated with retreading have focused on
checking the steel core of tyres for corrosion, replacing highly
polluting chemical solvents used for gluing on the new rubber tread,
and allowing better testing of re-tread tyres to predict their future
wear. A CRAFT-funded project, Improving
the Control and Performance of Retreated Tyres, has provided
answers to all three challenges, and research results will make
retreading cheaper and more reliable - and should translate into