Waste Not
Carbon Fiber Vehicles Could Complicate Circular Economy

The British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) is calling on car manufacturers to ensure that using lightweight materials to achieve greenhouse gas reductions doesn't impede circular manufacturing processes, edie reports.

BMRA told edie that more collaboration from vehicle manufacturers will be needed to ensure that the entire lifecycle of materials are considered during the design process. Although replacing metal with carbon fiber or composites may reduce carbon dioxide by light-weighting vehicles, this can be much more difficult to recycle at the end of its life. These end-of-life environmental impacts may negate many of the environmental impacts of the carbon emissions savings gained from composite-based vehicles.

End-of-life vehicle (ELV) recycler Axion Polymers recently said more engagement and collaboration is needed to stimulate a circular economy within the car manufacturing industry, which could create demand for recycled plastics and metals within new vehicles. The company claimed closing the loop in the supply chain could create a more eco-friendly circular flow of materials with associated benefits for manufacturers, including reduced costs and increased profits.

These calls follow the announcement of an increase of 10 percent in the European Union's ELV Directive, from 85 percent to 95 percent, at the start of this year.

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Axion welcomed the new target, but BMRA told edie the target provided a "significant challenge, but not an insurmountable one". The organization is confident the UK will be able to achieve the goal ahead of a number of EU Member States.

BMRA said the additional 10 percent will be achieved through the further recovery of plastics and the generation of energy or conversion to a replacement fuel from unrecyclable automotive shredder residue (ASR). ASR makes up 6-8 percent of the materials from ELV processing and previously 600,000 tons of it was sent to landfill each year.

Regardless, business and government still are investing big in light-weight metals as a means of reducing greenhouse gases. In January, some 57 companies — including BASF, Boeing and Ford — joined the Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites. The consortium of companies, nonprofits and universities led by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville are investing more than $250 million to launch the Institute, focused on cutting-edge research on advanced fiber-reinforced polymer composites, which combine strong fibers with tough plastics that are lighter and stronger than steel.

The Institute will also work to develop lower-cost, higher-speed and more efficient manufacturing and recycling processes for advanced composites. Boeing has been working on developing improved recycling methods for carbon fiber from manufacturing waste and end-of-life products since 2012.

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