Car recycling in all its forms

Metals, polymers, elastomers, liquids or even glass, the composition of our cars is complex and theirs scrap treatment more. As a result, tons and tons of hard to store and polluting waste are treated every year by 1,700 approved centers on French territory. To be recycled, a car can not be left to anyone: only these professionals are able to isolate hazardous waste (battery, brake and coolant, oils, etc.) from recyclable waste before sending the carcass to one of The 60 shredders, again approved, which must make sure to separate the different components for their recycling. An environmental problem, as recycling generally avoids waste of natural resources and energy, secures the supply of raw materials and fights pollution. One aspect that is also governed by Europe: the Union’s target sets the recycling and recycling rate in the car industry at 85% and the recycling and recovery rate at 95% (European Directive 2000/53 / EC of 18 September 2000). Figures reached for the first time in France recently: according to the Ademes End-of-Life Vehicle Observatory, the car recycling sector in 2019 reached 87.1% recycling and recycling percentage and 95% recycling and recycling percentage.

second Life

But what happens to the recyclable parts of a car? Those in good condition can of course be resold as spare parts. Depending on the vehicle type, 20 to 30 parts are taken from each VHU for the used market. “We are seeing a very reasonable increase in the number of disassembled parts per vehicle, directly linked to a massive amount of end-of-life vehicles. The trend today is towards accelerating the dismantling of parts, especially to meet the growing demand for recyclable We also noticed that in 2020, almost 9 million parts were computerized on our platforms, compared to 2.5 million in 2015, “explains Laurent Assis-Arantes, co-founder of Opisto with our colleagues from Decision Workshop. In addition, since 2017, consumers must be informed that spare parts from the circular economy are available when they repair or maintain their vehicle. Insurance companies also use this option to minimize the cost of repair. It should be noted that these parts are secured and tracked, and above all repaired according to the standard replacement procedure. For the rest of the materials, grinding is the second operation. The sorting phase then begins after decomposition: ferrous and non-ferrous metals as well as the various plastic materials are separated. The recovered materials are eventually prepared and refined to be reintroduced as “secondary raw materials”, according to a closed loop recycling cycle.

Other elements of our cars also find a different life in other sectors. For example, Indra Automobile Recycling, a major player in France, recently teamed up with a French start-up “La comma” to reuse seat belts as backpack straps. The fabrics and leather in our cars or even more surprisingly the airbags are also very popular with responsible luxury leather goods. And the Anti-Waste Act, which came into force for the automotive sector in early 2022, may continue to shake up. By promoting the circular economy, it encourages manufacturers to improve the recyclability of models. The Stellantis Group has also integrated into its 2030 strategic plan the desire to achieve more than € 2 billion in revenue from the circular economy by intensifying recycling, refurbishment of used cars, batteries and spare parts.

Electric revolution

New problems are challenging the industry, such as energy conversion. Because before joining the “classic” disassembly lines, electric vehicles equipped with large and heavy batteries must undergo a specific phase: recovery. A delicate operation that lasts about 30 minutes, which can only be performed by technicians with special authorization. The operation is therefore longer than for a thermal vehicle, but this is not the only difference. Also from an economic point of view, the result is not the same. No particulate filter or catalyst, for example, although these items are of great value when recyclable. The electric motor is often sent for recycling, due to lack of demand today. Ultimately, therefore, an electric vehicle that is more expensive to purchase will have less value at the end of its life.

Especially since the battery is returned to the manufacturer, who will either put it back on a recycling circuit or reuse it. But this last step is not yet fully mastered by the various car brands. For example, Renault is establishing a specific sector and working to improve its material recycling processes, in particular with Veolia. Nissan has simply announced the development of this sector with locations in Europe this year. Mercedes-Benz is starting to build its own recycling plant at the Kuppenheim plant in Germany, based on hydrometallurgy. “We are increasing the recycling rate to more than 96%, while expanding our own value-added expertise in batteries,” the group explains. But this kind of construction takes time. As a first step, a mechanical dismantling plant is to be built in 2023. As a second step, subject to promising discussions with the public, facilities for hydrometallurgical processing of battery materials must be taken into use.

The key figures for car recycling:

  • 1.5 million ELVs on average each year

  • 19 years, the average age of an ELV

  • 4.25% of the PC and LCV fleet in circulation on 1 January 2020 was scrapped in 2019 compared to 4.11% in 2018;

  • 20 to 30 parts extracted per vehicle for the second-hand market

  • 87.1% recycling and recycling percentage and 95% recycling and recycling percentage in 2019;

  • 1,700 treatment centers;

  • 60 approved crushers.

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