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Circularity of Plastics in ELVs – Forward to the Past

Vicente B. Vert, PhD at AIMPLAS, based in Spain, provides us with his view on the benefits of boosting the circular economy by recycling plastics from ELVs.

Vicente B Vert
Vicente B Vert

According to the text in the ELV Directive (DIRECTIVE 2000/53/EC), its priority lays on the prevention of waste from vehicles and then the reuse, recycling and other forms of recovery of end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) and their components to reduce the disposal of waste.

Twenty years after the ELV Directive entered into force, topics like reuse, recycling and waste reduction are (again) attracting attention as priorities in Europe.

The European Commission is putting great efforts on boosting the Circular Economy for all sectors across the European Union. Circular Economy aims to maintain the economy for as long as possible in the value of products, materials and resources while minimising the generation of waste.

Looking back at current management models for vehicles, they were highly circular even before the term ‘Circular Economy was widely used:

  • cars are repaired as long as the vehicle meets drivable requirements,
  • usable parts from ELVs are sorted and stored for further refurbishing vehicles in use,
  • main components of depolluted ELVs are recovered for direct recycling (metals counted above 80% of the total weight in older cars).

However, metal-based parts and components in vehicles are being lowered in benefit of plastics. Plastics in the automotive sector offer advantages due to their intrinsic properties like fabricability, durability, cost and lightweight. The more plastics in cars, the better the vehicle performance (consumption and emissions) but the more the waste generated by current ELV management models.

In that sense, ELV management for reducing waste has been changing in recent years as newer cars contain more plastics in weight. Since the increased interest on recycled plastics, large plastic parts are directly recovered at:

  • Authorised Treatment Facilities (ATFs) for being recycled
  • Shredding plants or
  • Further sorted at Post-Shredding Plants where enhanced Post-Shredding Technologies (PST) are more commonly used.

AIMPLAS

A plastics technology centre with more than 25 years’ experience in the plastic sector, located in València – SPAIN, is conducting several projects on these topics, focusing on the circularity of plastics in vehicles:

LIFE CIRC-ELV

(Boosting Circular Economy of Plastics from End-of-Life Vehicles through Recycling into High Added-value Applications):

  • aims to change the ELV management model for recovering large plastic parts, such as bumpers and fuel tanks, at ATFs where depollution is conducted. It will enable new streams of high-quality plastics to be easily recycled and reused.

ECOBULK

(Circular Process for Eco-Designed Bulky Products and Internal Car Parts)

  • is dedicated to rethinking plastic parts in vehicles, such as central console and inner parts, to be designed for increasing its circularity, which allows it to be easily repaired, refurbished and recycled. The Circular Economy is then considered at the early stages of the conception of the car parts.

MULTICYCLE

(Advanced & Sustainable Recycling Processes and Value Chains for Plastic-based Multi-materials):

  • develops an innovative process for valorising currently non-recyclable materials (composites like PP or PA with glass fibres in vehicles), based on both preferential solvent-based extraction of specific polymer fractions in subsequent stages (Fraunhofer IVV patented CreaSolv® process) and compounding reprocessing with sc-CO2. Thus, difficult-to-recycle plastic wastes are diverted from landfill by novel separation and purification techniques.

The ELV Directive will be reviewed by 31st December 2020. Hence, technological approaches like those presented in these projects and focus on the increasing recovery of plastics parts in current and future ELVs will allow ELV managers and even vehicle producers to be ready for the future requirements appearing in the review of this Directive.

Accordingly, there is room for plastic parts in vehicles to be designed for its circularity and to be more efficiently recovered. Efforts made in this direction allow vehicles to go forward to the past better than back to the future.

About Dr Vicente B. Vert

Dr Vicente B. Vert (M), holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Polytechnic University of Valencia, Spain and a master’s degree in Polymeric Materials and Composites from the same University.

He has more than 10 years of experience in the execution and technical management of national and international research projects, based on the development of materials and applications to improve energy and environmental efficiency.

In the area of ​​Sustainability and Industrial Recovery, as he has been enrolled in AIMPLAS for the past 3 years, he performs technical advisory tasks to companies interested in reducing the environmental impact of plastic-based products, proposing product alternatives, suitability of materials and environmental assessment studies, such as life cycle analysis or the carbon footprint, among other eco-labels and certifications. In addition, he is participating in the technical and documentary execution of different national and international projects focused on the circular economy, recycling, biodegradability and the renewable origin of plastics.

He has extensive experience in presenting results at national and international conferences, as well as presenting proposals to diverse audiences.

He also has knowledge in the processes of management and quality control, business creation and industrialisation.

 

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