The cloths used in auto assembly plants to clean engine parts are receiving a second life as plastic components in cars and trucks.
Mobile Fluid Recovery Inc. and Contec Inc. have coordinated an effort that is reusing 100,000 pounds of polypropylene and polyester cloth wipes annually.
A potential change in federal regulations may mean more of the isopropyl alcohol-soaked material could go into the recycling stream in the future. Individual states now decide whether alcohol in the wipes - used to clean car parts and also in screen printing for electronic components - require special handling as a hazardous material, said David Briggs, executive vice president for MFR. The federal government is reviewing a national standard for the material.
Evansville, Ind.-based MFR can clean the wipes, leaving 8 gallons of hazardous material behind out of a 50-gallon barrel of soaked cloth, greatly reducing the disposal cost.
The textile left behind is then ready for recycling. The polyester ends up in tubes used to absorb liquid spills, but the polypropylene-based material can be used in recycled resin blends, Briggs said at the Society of Plastics Engineers' Global Plastics Environmental Conference in Detroit.
``That's the neat process behind the whole thing,'' said Deavron Farmer, an account manager for Matrixx Inc., the Evansville compounder that worked with MFR in developing the recycling technology.
Matrixx found that the cleaned wipes could be treated the same as any other PP-based textile or film - heated nearly to its melting point to a stage where it can go into a normal regrinding process.
DaimlerChrysler AG, which had one of its Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler Group assembly plants involved in the study, further pushed to see if the regrind could meet its own specifications for plastics. Matrixx put it into a 20 percent talc filled PP, with the wipe-based regrind making up 20 percent of the polypropylene, that met Chrysler standards, Farmer said.
The material is used in unseen components such as wheel housings and wire harnesses.
MFR now is collecting and cleaning wipes from 11 auto assembly plants, with General Motors Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru assembly plant in Lafayette, Ind., participating. Other compounders also are taking part in the program, Briggs said.