A group of companies, and one research group, say they have found a way to reuse automotive shredder residue, which contains a significant amount of used plastics, through a closed-loop recycling project.
ASR — basically what's left after vehicles are shredded and metals extracted — has typically gone to landfills for disposal. That's because the shredded remains contain a wide variety of materials, including different types of resins, and can become contaminated during the shredding process.
But now, resin maker Eastman Chemical Co., automotive recycler Padnos, automotive interior supplier Yanfeng and research and development organization U.S. Automotive Materials Partnership LLC said they have found success turning ASR into new parts.
Underpinning the project is Eastman's carbon renewal technology, a process that converts ASR into a synthetic gas that can then be used to produce polyester and cellulosic thermoplastic resins. These plastics were then used by Yanfeng to mold demonstration parts "to meet a variety of OEM — Ford, GM and Stellantis — requirements, thereby demonstrating proof of concept for a truly circular solution," the companies said.
The automobile manufacturers are members of the U.S. Council for Automotive Research, which includes USAMP.
The Eastman approach falls under the category of molecular recycling, which is sometimes called advanced or chemical recycling. This differs from mechanical recycling, which recaptures used plastics that retain their original properties during the recycling process. Molecular recycling breaks down plastics to their molecular level before the constituents can be reconstituted into new, virginlike resin.
"Modern cars are made with approximately 50 percent plastics by volume, on average; and this number is only expected to increase as automotive manufacturers continue to seek lighter electric vehicles. We're demonstrating a future where automotive hard-to-recycle plastics and fibers are diverted from landfills and recycled to produce new automotive parts," said Steve Crawford, Eastman's chief sustainability officer, in a statement.
Deloitte Consulting LLP estimates more than 10 billion pounds of ASR are created each year globally, the groups said.
Along with providing a potential solution to divert waste from landfills, USAMP pointed to potential energy savings and lower greenhouse gas emissions through the process.
"We see a lot of potential with the resin developed with molecular reprocessing. We are pleased with the performance of the interior components we molded during the study and believe it would be a sustainable solution in production," said Jeff Stout, executive director of global innovation for Yanfeng, in a statement.