A key business driver for today’s vehicle manufacturers is to find cost-effective ways to reduce material impact, and weight, in the cars they build. Lighter vehicles result in less fuel consumption – and consequently, fewer emissions.
“Every 100kg saved in vehicle mass saves around 2% in fuel consumption,” Jaguar Land Rover’s (JLR) group leader for sustainable aluminium strategies, Adrian Tautscher, told me at a recent event. Weight is seen is something of an enemy at JLR – over the past eight years, the British car maker has taken lightweighting to new levels with its REALCAR (REcycled ALuminium CAR) project.
The results of REALCAR were first seen with the Jaguar XE – an advanced sports saloon featuring an aluminium-intensive body shell weighing in at just 251kg. The first full year of sales for the vehicle marks another milestone for REALCAR – the reclamation of more than 50,000 tonnes of aluminium scrap back into JLR’s production process during 2015/16 through a closed-loop supply chain.
Tautscher says this will likely involve mining post-consumer scrap metal streams in order to source the volumes required. One potential avenue is to target recycled aluminium alloy from scrap cars.
“Currently we are not processing end-of-life vehicle scrap into [the REALCAR process], but this our plan for the future,” he said. “As long as you keep the aluminium stream clean and segregated, you can recycle it again and again.”
This approach, of repurposing materials from ‘open loop’ systems, is not without its challenges – contamination being one of them. JLR’s press shop scrap is already carefully source-segregated to ensure that any contamination - from other metals such as steel, for instance - is virtually eliminated before the aluminium is sent for melting down and recasting into new sheet ingot.
The segregation set-up involves an over 1.8km conveyor system - 47 individual conveyors all linked for controlled, automated collection of scrap material.
“The principle of the closed loop starts with segregation, and that must happen at source,” Tautscher pointed out. “We’ve invested heavily in our Castle Bromwich, our Solihull, and our Halewood press shops.”
Novelis, JLR’s REALCAR aluminium recycling partner, admits sourcing from the end-of-life vehicles stream will likely require new advances in non-ferrous metals separation.
“We will need interesting developments in sensor and sorting technology,” Andy Doran, Novelis Europe’s sustainability & recycling development manager, admitted at the event.
New types of supply chain collaboration will also need to be forged with vehicle dismantlers, shredders and recyclers to ascertain the best methods for high value extraction. JLR has already teamed up with UK-based Materials and Design Exchange to review the processes and stages that materials go through at the end of a vehicle’s life. One key objective here is to improve opportunities for reuse.
Another possible source of post-consumer scrap aluminium could be extracted from municipal waste streams, such as those entering mechanical biological treatment (MBT) centres, but early trials in this field have proved very challenging – again due to the levels of separation and sorting needed. Innovate UK, which has part-funded the REALCAR project so far, is due to consider another funding bid from JLR which, if successful, could help tackle some of these scale-up barriers.
Innovate UK’s director of manufacturing & materials, Simon Edmonds, sees REALCAR as a great example of circular collaboration; besides JLR and Novelis, other supply chain partners include Zyomax, Norton Aluminium, Stadco, Brunel University and Innoval Technology.
“We use the REALCAR project case study a lot with our networks,” Edmonds says, emphasising the importance of transferable learning.
While millions of pounds’ investment has been ploughed into REALCAR to make it work, JLR says use of recycled aluminium is helping to drive down costs, especially as the alloy requires up to 95 percent less energy use than primary aluminium production. Tautscher says JLR’s future volume will be dominated by aluminium-intensive vehicles.
“REALCAR has identified the huge opportunity that exists around the circular economy and resource efficiency – how do we make the most of the waste streams that exist,” he says. “REALCAR was always intended to be a long-term strategic project, to deliver into the vehicles of the future. And now we’re in the future.”