The British car brand Jaguar likes to incorporate aluminium in its models. Aluminium saves weight and makes its sports cars, SUVs and sedans feel lighter, and more efficient. Jaguar prefers to use recycled aluminium. For instance, in 2014, the Jaguar XE was the first car in the world to have body parts made from the aluminium alloy RC5754. This alloy contains at least 75 per cent recycled aluminium. The metal comes from the circular production lines at the European production plants of the Jaguar Land Rover Group. Jaguar and Land Rover started the REALITY project some years ago with the aim of recycling “aluminium from existing vehicles into new, high-quality aluminium components for the production of new models”, according to the British manufacturer. Jaguar Land Rover has used 300,000 tonnes of recycled aluminium for its models since 2013.
Plastics transform the car. The Swiss research firm Prognos forecasts that around 28 per cent of a car will be made from plastics by 2030. In 2010, this was a mere 15 per cent. For Volvo, it is very important that the plastics they use in their cars have been recycled. Currently, 17 per cent of a Volvo XC90 is already made up of polymers (organic compounds, eds.) The first specific target has been set for 2025. This is the year in which a quarter of the plastic in every Volvo must be recycled. It is feasible, but not an easy task. “Volvo still needs to do a lot of homework to meet the 2025 targets. For instance, it is particularly difficult to find enough suitable plastic. Suppliers report that they are currently unable to deliver such a large quantity of plastic. So, Volvo is looking for new suppliers. Tests still need to be done to determine whether the materials and components made from recycled plastic are safe enough for use in cars”, said Niklas Kilberg, Sustainability Manager for the Swedish firm.
“Volvo still needs to do a lot of homework to meet the 2025 targets. For instance, it is particularly difficult to find enough suitable plastic.”
Several years ago, Sandra Tovar, a polymers specialist at Volvo, said that the next logical step for the Swedish car manufacturer was to recycle plastic within a closed system. Recent enquiries at the headquarters of the Volvo Car Corporation have revealed that the company is still thinking about this. However, knowing this pioneering Swedish company, it seems to be only a matter of time before the closed-loop becomes a reality.
Copper, platinum and polypropylene
One car group that is a leader in the circular ecosystem and closed recycling loops is the Renault Group. It has been setting up its closed recycling systems since 2011. This started with the recovery and reuse of copper wire from end-of-life vehicles. However, it now also recovers platinum from catalytic converters and uses discarded bumpers and wheel arch liners (polypropylene) to make new ones. The Renault factory in the French city of Choisy-le-Roi is also part of the circular ecosystem. In addition to making new engines, gearboxes, injection pumps and turbo chargers, it makes 15,000 new engines and 18,000 new gearboxes from discarded ones.
Jean-Denis Curt, Head of Circular Production at the Renault Group: “We made a start in our current way of recycling around ten years ago. We devised this to prove that it is possible and because it could be profitable, or so we thought. We began with help from the European Union. It does make profit, though not much, but it is more important that we set a good example. No other competitor is doing it this way, so we are leading the way. We are now looking at whether we can expand the closed recycling loops, particularly in France.”
For instance, the Renault Group wants to recycle more seat belts and reuse the power train from EVs. Furthermore, the programme includes battery recycling.
Battery recycling and reuse
Other car manufacturers are also busy setting up closed-loop recycling in the field of EV batteries. In autumn 2018, Audi Germany and Umicore announced that they will be recovering those valuable materials from high-voltage batteries. The initial lab tests have been promising. Umicore showed in these tests that it was able to recover and reuse over 95 per cent of the most important components of batteries, such as cobalt, nickel and copper. Last spring, Umicore also had discussions about a closed-loop recycling solution with its competitor, BMW.
Last year, Japanese firm Nissan opened a factory in its own country in Namie, where it prepares used battery packs from its Leaf and e-NV200 models for reuse in electric cars, where possible. They examine which parts of each battery that comes in are still in good condition and then rebuild these modules into new batteries. They offer these ‘refurbished batteries’ as affordable replacement batteries to owners of slightly older Leaf models. A refurbished Nissan battery costs less than half the price of a brand-new battery pack.