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LIFE PlasPLUS – meeting the challenge of separating complex plastics

The electrification of the global car fleet is underway and promises to grow exponentially in the coming years. As research and development departments of major manufacturers are now looking at the car of the future, they must also increasingly anticipate the end of the vehicle’s life and its recycling.

LIFE PlasPLUS - meeting the challenge of separating complex plastics pUntil recently, three-quarters of a car was made of steel and non-ferrous metals. But to succeed in making our cars run on batteries for as long as possible, we need to make cars lighter. Composite materials and plastics are becoming increasingly important. And this is where the issue of recycling automotive plastics comes into play: flexibility, flame retardants, shine, etc. These characteristics and physical property requirements will vary depending on whether the plastic is intended for a rear-view mirror, a bumper or a glove box. These properties are also found in the plastics that make up our coffee machines, hoovers, computers and many other electrical and electronic waste products. There are more than one hundred types of plastics, and recycling them is a challenge for all levels of the plastics industry, from the recycler to the car manufacturers, promising the ‘green’ cars for tomorrow.

The European LIFE PlasPLUS project has been set up to target this challenge of plastics recycling. It brings together the COMET Group (recycling), the University of Liège (research), Campine (antimony producer), Seriplast (compounder) and the Fiat Research Centre in Turin (Stellantis Group). The first focus of LIFE PlasPLUS was to engineer the industrial demonstration for the separation of a complex mixture of plastics from automotive shredder residues and WEEE. More specifically, three plastics of the same density, ABS, PS and filled PP.

LIFE PlasPLUS - meeting the challenge of separating complex plastics p two
Hervé Demoulin (Groupe COMET, project coordinator) and Philippe Giaro (ULiège) with the Fiat 500 glovebox made with 100% recycled plastics from LIFE PlasPlus

Auto Recycling World spoke with Hervé Demoulin (COMET Group), project coordinator of LIFE PlasPLUS:

“In the COMET Group, we recycle a total of 1.200.000 tons of metallic waste of all types.

Additionally, at Comet Traitements, we process 350.000 tons of shredder residue. From this large volume, we extract about 15.000 tons of plastics which are returned to the compounding sector. This waste originates from end-of-life vehicles, waste electrical and electronic equipment and scrap metal in the general sense. We are dealing with a ternary mixture of plastics, i.e. mixtures of PS, ABS and filled PP. The usual technologies on the market do not allow this triple separation. Through our development, we are able to purify these three fractions with the objective of reintegrating the automotive sector to complete the circularity loop”.

Comet sells its recycled plastic residues to about twenty different European compounders and, within the frame of LIFE PlasPLUS, collaborated with Stellantis, whose goal is to incorporate over 35% of green materials in its cars by 2030. Vito Lambertini, Materials project manager at FIAT research center (CRF):

Our goal is to have by 2038 a zero-carbon emission in the production of our vehicles. In LIFE PlasPLUS we want to create new standards that are today not available. We don’t have any materials coming from shredding residues in our feedstock’s standards. So, the output of LIFE PlasPLUS is to create these new standards”.

Therefore, Fiat and the Stellantis group supplied its specifications directly to Comet to evaluate which plastics grinds it could use. As a result, the front of the Fiat 500 glove box is now made from 100% Comet recycled plastics. “It takes time because in the automotive industry, as in other industries, all materials have to meet multiple technical and safety standards. But thanks to the project, we succeeded in transforming a waste product from an end-of-life vehicle and to reuse it to make new car parts. The loop is completely closed“, adds Hervé Demoulin.

The other part of the LIFE PlasPLUS project was to tackle plastics containing additives such as flame retardants present in cars parts but also coffee machines or computers for safety reasons. For decades, bromine and antimony have been used for this purpose, but given the harmful nature of some BRFs (brominated flame retardants), the challenge was to remove them from the plastic residues while recovering the antimony and bromine from the rest. Antimony is indeed a critical material present in only a few mines on the other side of the world. The LIFE PlasPLUS project, thanks to various separation technologies implemented by the COMET Group, the University of Liège and the antimony supplier Campine, will have made it possible to develop an unprecedented antimony recycling process.

In conclusion, we see that the challenge lies on both sides of the fence: for manufacturers to adapt their raw material specifications and for recyclers to guarantee consistency in quality and production volumes of secondary raw materials. These new sorting technologies will, therefore, enable the recycling and plastics production sectors to meet the environmental objectives of the automotive and electronics industries and, thus, together, build a sustainable zero-carbon European industry.

To find out more about the European LIFE PlasPLUS project, go to