Transport, handling, intervention … What are the risks associated with recycling electric cars? Small entered Indra Automobile Recycling, the French leader in vehicle recycling.
Direction Romorantin-Lanthenay, to discover the challenges and specifics of car recycling for a day. From internal disassembly to compression into small cubes, we have closely followed the stages of recycling a car. The opportunity to focus on a growing activity: Recycling electric cars. A very recent chapter in car recycling, which evolves over the models and the various cases one encounters.
Indra Automobile Recycling: expert in circular economy
A little context. Indra Automobile Recycling is a French company specializing in the recycling of end-of-life vehicles (VHU). In 15 years, Indra has established itself as the leading player in France, and supports all players in the sector. The company is particularly competent in light vehicles and also diversifies into industrial vehicles and two-wheeled vehicles. To better understand the field of car recycling, here are some loose numbers:
- 10 million vehicles reach the end of their lives every year in Europe
- European targets require recovery (recycling) of 95% of their mass since 2015
- The Indra network reached 95.6% in 2016 (97% in Romorantin)
- 600,000 ELVs were destroyed by Indra in 2019 (38.2% market share)
- i.e. 655,000 tons of material, including 460,000 tons of steel
- The average age of destruction of a vehicle in France is 19.6 years
- The Indra-approved network consists of 380 ELV centers
- 2 places: Romorantin-Lanthenay (pilot) and Vienne
- 40 people on site, including 15 engineers
- 62 million euros in turnover in 2021 (24% increase)
A step by step deconstruction
For our part, we had the chance to visit the Romorantin pilot site and follow the various steps in dismantling ELVs. At the site, each VHU is “deconstructed” in almost the opposite direction by an assembly line. If this approach can seem obvious, it requires some logistics to optimize the treatment of each vehicle. Before looking at the electrical, we therefore took the time to review each of these elements. This is to better understand all the stages that each car passes through, from the city car to the minivan. Here are the different positions:
- 1: coupling of the vehicle and removal of wheels, wheel arches and number plates.
- 2: removal of the openings (doors, bonnet, glass), as well as the battery and lights.
- 3: contamination, purification and removal of the various liquids (fuel, oil, coolant, etc.).
- 4: removal of interior and exterior equipment, from bumpers to seats, fenders, inserts and braces.
- 5: removal of the drive unit (cradle, catalyst, other braces and jars, etc.).
- 6: removal of the dashboard, cutting of the windshield (safety), removal of seals and carpet.
These different positions are equipped with specific tools and devices that serve to facilitate the intervention of workers. Each step makes it possible to use different components and materials (steel, aluminum, ABS, glass, textile and even wood). This is followed by a real deconstruction of what is left of the body, thanks to a powerful 11-ton handling arm equipped with a surprisingly precise “grip”: the aptly named “Car Power Demonter”. We admit it, the child in us was amazed at the surgical precision of such a … destructive operation!
Electric and hybrid cars: specific risks
For more than 10 years, Indra has been developing expertise dedicated to the treatment of electric and hybrid vehicles (VEH). Not surprisingly, the latter require taking special precautions in connection with the presence of electric batteries. In this context, the AURCA training center even offers specific modules intended for the various actors in the sector. Among these we find, for example, control of risks related to electric cars, or transport of an electric or hybrid vehicle with an accident with an action machine. At present, there is still some “uncertainty” in the handling of electric batteries.
We can not always predict and predict all the scenarios that may occur. The risks of handling an electric vehicle / its battery are not always the same. The batteries may not react in the same way, depending on whether they have been exposed to an accident, a fire, an immersion. In all cases, handling begins with securing the electric battery. This is why feedback from case to case and model to model is crucial to building a network of experts.
Used tools and devices
The equipment used is therefore crucial when it comes to HEVs. From personal protective equipment (PPE) to tool handling, every element is important. Thus, we were able to understand why and how of certain tools and discover certain subtleties. Starts with lifting solutions adapted to HEVs. Whether it is the mobile lift or the two-post lift, both, for example, provide completely free access to the undercarriage on vehicles. This is where the operator equips himself with his electrician gloves, his gloves, his helmet and his voltage tester. Let’s go ahead with the electrical separation between battery and motor. The removal of the wiring and the fuse takes place under regular control of the electrical voltage.
Only when there is no power can the battery be removed. To do this, a mobile lifting table has been specially designed. This can support up to 1 ton (the weight of electric batteries is generally between 250 and 300 kg). As you will understand, the procedure on a HEV requires a dedicated procedure, and for good reason. Imagine: a forklift operator authorized to handle thermal vehicles accustomed to moving them with a forklift. By forging the forks under an electric car, it risks falling right on the battery! We immediately better understand the importance of these specific processes and authorizations.
What happens to the batteries?
This is what the battery has been secured under the catastrophic disaster. It is therefore ready to return to the manufacturer, Indra does not keep the batteries in electric vehicles. The goal is therefore only to give it a new life if the diagnosis is favorable and its traceability confirmed. Understand here that the slightest leak or insulation fault is enough to rule out the possibility of reusing the battery. The same applies if the HEV went through the recycling box after an accident in which the airbags were triggered, for example. Because we do not know what the shock may have caused inside, we do not recycle the battery. Just a precaution. In any case, the batteries in electric cars are systematically removed. Therefore, when everything is favorable, the battery can benefit from another life in different ways.
For example, some batteries return to circulation while others are repaired. Those who can not become donors and supply sub-components used in the repair. It is also possible to reuse battery modules in alternative solutions such as retrofitting. Finally, the same modules can simply be used as energy storage solutions, i.a. Because yes, recycling is recycling too! And the more we get there, the better the circular economy does.