Exceeding the standards
Published on 02 March 2018
All European Union member states have been required since 1 January 2015 to recycle 95 percent of the weight of end-of-life vehicles. This entails a minimum of 85 percent of material reuse and up to at least 95 percent that can be extracted for useful applications, such as by means of energy recovery through incineration. The Netherlands has well exceeded these requirements since 2013 - thanks to ARN.
“Without the subsequent separation of shredder waste as done in our PST factory, the Netherlands would not comply with the European car recycling requirements,” says Director Hans van de Greef of ARN Recycling. “The reason is because, after dismantling and shredding an end-of-life vehicle, around 20 percent of its weight remains as shredder waste. If that waste is incinerated or dumped, it is not possible to achieve an 85 percent reuse of materials from an end-of-life vehicle.”
The secret of the PST factory lies in its high-tech and complex separation system. Van de Greef explains, “Mechanical separation techniques make it possible in quite a number of steps to recover useful raw materials from shredder waste, primarily from vehicles. This includes sieving on the particle level and separating into air or liquid based on density and magnetism. This results in end fractions like plastics, fibres, minerals and metals such as copper, aluminium and iron.”
The PST factory aims to process at least 40,000 tonnes of shredder waste each year. “This is the total amount of shredder waste that becomes available annually from end-of-life vehicles in the Netherlands. In 2014, we reused 40 percent from the shredder waste produced as new materials. Before the PST factory was put into operation, this waste was incinerated or dumped.”
Van de Greef and his team had to overcome quite a few obstacles in constructing the PST factory and putting it into operation. These varied from finding a stable quantity for the supply in the production line to the separation of copper wires from the plastic fraction. The greatest challenge was to develop, build and put into operation an entirely new production line for the large-scale processing of car shredder waste from eleven different shredder locations.
Van de Greef explains, “There are various companies in Europe, primarily shredder companies, that have invested in the development of technology to recover valuable materials from shredder waste. This includes elements from our production line. But the production line as a whole, with the specific goal of 95 percent recycling, is unique.”
Trial and error
“In recent years, we’ve had a very steep learning curve,” says Van de Greef. “Through trial and error, we’ve managed to get the production line up and running. Keep in mind that the factory has around 170 different units operating simultaneously that need to be coordinated. A tremendous amount of time is spent finding the right settings for all these units to ensure a smooth production process,” explains Van de Greef. “A complicating factor here is that the 11 material flows we receive from shredder companies all have a different composition.”
High-quality end products
The optimisations implemented have had a positive effect on the environment. “A more stable production process enables us to process a larger quantity of shredder waste yearly,” says Van de Greef. “This results in more useful end products, while at the same time reducing the amount of shredder waste that is incinerated or dumped.” The facilities for extracting metals and removing wood and rubber from plastic fractions enable a considerably more effective separation of materials. “This means that we can produce ‘cleaner’ end products of higher quality, which in turn can be used as raw materials for new products. The copper recovered, for example, goes directly to copper smelting factories and one of the plastic fractions is used as a raw material for the car industry.” The cleaner end products with a higher end value have a positive effect on the economic profitability of the PST factory.
The technical adaptations to the production line have lead to considerable cost savings. Van de Greef explains, “The production line requires less maintenance. We have also switched to more brief, prescheduled maintenance stops. This makes it possible to more effectively utilise the production capacity for the actual processing of shredder waste, resulting in a reduction in energy use of 26 percent per tonne, among other things The optimisations have also taught us to buy different materials that wear out less quickly and have a longer service life as a result.”
Not yet profitable
In spite of the cost savings and better yield for some fractions, experience has shown that the costs of processing shredder waste on balance are not always higher than the earnings. “The sale of the fibre fraction to the cement industry and waste incinerators is the costliest aspect. We have various projects underway that will ultimately lead to the sale of fibre fractions at a profit. The material separation of the mineral fraction also costs more than it returns. In coming years, we plan to further optimise the production line. One of the proposed projects is aimed at the further separation of plastics. We are also continuously looking for new sales channels for the end fractions.”
From incineration to reuse
According to Van de Greef, a major challenge in coming years will be to properly balance the supply - shredder waste - and output, i.e. the end products. “We need to further optimise the production line in order to improve economic profitability. An important aspect of this is to reorient the material flows currently being incinerated towards the reuse of these materials. This is only possible if the materials are made ‘cleaner’, so that they are of greater value and yield more. The focus in coming years will be on lowering the costs of selling the end fractions.”
With its unique separation facility, the PST factory serves as an example in Europe of the high-quality recycling of shredder waste. Van de Greef explains, “The PST installation provides European countries, governments and industries with proof that there is an alternative to the dumping or incinerating of shredder waste, one with added value. We actively share our knowledge and experience with others, such as by giving large groups of visitors a guided tour of our production line every year.”