Cost pressures have forced Visteon Automotive Systems to replace DuPont Co. with Wellman Inc. as the material supplier in its high-visibility campaign to use recycled carpet nylon for air-cleaner housings.
Visteon, the parts-making unit of Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford Motor Co., and resin supplier DuPont, launched a well-publicized, award-winning recycling program last year. The parts supplier uses nylon 6/6 from used carpet on more than 3 million air-cleaner housing parts annually.
The program is considered the largest end use of recycled nylon for an automotive application. The project garnered both the environmental award and the grand prize last fall from the Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Division in Detroit.
But since the experimental program began in January 1997, Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont struggled to keep the price of recycled nylon below that of virgin material. The resin supplier says it absorbed some material costs to meet Visteon's pricing guidelines.
Ford requires that its recycled parts cost no more than virgin-content components and perform identically.
Several sources familiar with the project said DuPont had trouble keeping the price low enough for Visteon. Visteon officials were unavailable for comment late last week.
DuPont was told that Visteon's decision to move to Wellman was an economic one, said Clint Christian, global account manager for DuPont Automotive, based in Troy, Mich.
DuPont had dispatched pile carpeting to a recycling plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the material was separated mechanically, shredded and ground.
``The work in Chattanooga was done strictly for the Visteon project,'' Christian said. ``We knew the process was limited and that ultimately it was just a stepping stone as we learn more about post-consumer nylon.''
Even with the short-term setback, DuPont will continue its recycling efforts, Christian said. The company plans to replace the lost Visteon work with other projects in its now-dormant Chattanooga plant, he said.
``It's a pebble in the road, but we haven't lost momentum for recycling,'' Christian said.
DuPont is developing chemical recycling in an effort to take resin back to a monomer through a distillation process, Christian said. That work would be both more cost-effective and lead to a purer feed stream, he added.
``That to me is the Holy Grail of recycling,'' Christian said.
Wellman, a leading recycler of PET bottle resins, had been asked last fall to step in and develop recycled-content nylon for Visteon, said Tom Barnard, sales director for Wellman's engineering resins division.
After a several-month wait, Wellman was handed the contract, starting in early April after Visteon had used all of its DuPont recycled nylon, Barnard said. Visteon makes the housings at its Sandusky, Ohio, plant.
Wellman believes it can meet Ford's tough pricing standards through economies of scale and by using its existing technology, Barnard said. The Shrewsbury, N.J., company operates a large recycling complex in Johnsonville, S.C.
Wellman also recycles nylon for fan shrouds used on Ford Windstar minivans. With the new contract, the recycler plans to grow its nylon business, as it has with PET.