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‘ECODIS’ and ‘SEES’ – meeting the challenge of vehicle waste

New EU-funded projects are providing the automotive industry and car recyclers with effective technologies and methodologies for cost-effective and environmentally friendly maintenance and dismantling operations.

Cars in a scrapyard

Vehicles are essential to the efficient functioning of a modern society, but they affect the environment in several ways throughout their life cycle: waste generation during manufacturing and use, energy and resource consumption, and disposal at the end of their useful lives. About 75% of the materials that make up ‘end-of- life vehicles’, mainly metals, are recyclable in the European Union. The rest, about 25%, are considered waste and generally go into landfills. Every year, these vehicles generate between eight and nine million tonnes of such waste.

Action to reduce waste, either by encouraging material efficiency, reducing the generation of waste, or enabling the recovery and reuse of discarded material is a critical element of sustainable development. Automotive waste, including tyres, has been identified specifically as a priority areas for achieving reduced environmental impacts.

In 1997, the European Commission adopted a Proposal for a Directive aimed at making vehicle dismantling and recycling more environmentally friendly. This legislation was officially adopted by the European Parliament and Council in September 2000 and requires the reduction of end-of-life vehicle waste to a maximum of 5% of all vehicle materials by 2015.

Bold steps – the ECODIS project

Comprising 12 partners from seven EU countries, including three high-tech SMEs, the ECODIS consortium is developing new methods and technologies for dismantling end-of-life cars, based on the use of ‘thermo-expandable’ materials in car construction.

Thermo-expandable materials change shape and, in some cases, composition when exposed to certain levels or types of energy, including heat. The use of such materials in adhesives used to bond car plastics, composites and glazings would allow for much easier dismantling at the end of the car’s life.

Putting new technologies to work

To achieve its aims, the ECODIS project has identified several sub-objectives:

  • Design of active systems, based on thermo-expandable elements, for several applications, including composites, plastics, glazings, metals and aluminium;
  • Formulation of chemicals for adhesives, cleaners and primers, according to the type of active systems, elements to be bonded (and later de-bonded) and the desired stability;
  • Consideration of assembly line compatibility of the new systems at industrial scale;
  • Selection and optimisation of the de-bonding process; and
  • Definition of a dismantling protocol for maintenance, reuse or recycling of vehicle parts.

The SEES project

The main objective of the SEES project (Sustainable Electrical & Electronic System for the Automotive Sector) is to develop clean, cost- and eco-effective prototypes and dismantling an recycling processes to increase the vehicle recovery and reuse rate.

This project will define a sustainable scenario for recycling car electrical and electronic systems, to facilitate the dismantling and recycling of the materials used. Partners are focusing on valuable and, in some cases, hazardous electronics and plastics materials that are currently not recycled.

The main deliverables resulting from R&D activities will be:

  • Integrated end-of-life assessment of automotive electrical and electronic systems (EES);
  • Economic and environmental assessment including end-of-life scenarios;
  • Recycling scenario software support;
  • Eco-design guidelines to improve future designs of car EES;
  • Dismantling and shredding manuals for electrical & electronic equipment;
  • Demonstration and application of new dismantling and recycling technologies;
  • Product prototype to be tested for assembly and disassembly, including ‘smart’ materials;
  • Dissemination and exploitation of all SEES results

ECODIS and SEES partners say their ultimate goal is to provide the European automotive industry with ecologically and economically sound processes for overcoming the difficulties presented by end-of-life vehicles. This means both a cleaner and safer environment for future generations and a healthier and more competitive automotive industry, equipped to meet new responsibilities and ready to take on its overseas rivals.