Jeff Spangenberger, materials recycling group leader from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, based in Illinois, U.S., discusses how the laboratory is investigating ways to recycle polypropylene plastics from shredder residue and how there are opportunities to be had when it comes to recycling electric cars at their end of life.
After a car has taken its final road trip, it usually heads to the auto recycler where the fluids are drained and valuable parts are removed for resale. The remainder of the vehicle is then sent to the auto shredder where the metals are recovered for recycling and the remainder of the material — auto shredder residue — goes to the landfill at a cost. The entire system is economically sustainable because everyone in the system makes money.
As cars become lighter and lighter to achieve better fuel economy, however, the metal components are getting switched out for plastics that are not recycled, making it harder to achieve the financial rewards for recycling cars at end-of-life. Perhaps even more importantly, the introduction of electric vehicles to the auto recyclers feedstock add additional challenges to make the economics work because the batteries can have a significant negative value. Today, the percentage by weight of a vehicle going to landfill is increasing.
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