The automotive industry has a long history of reuse

Published on 12 November 2020

How are cars recycled in other countries and what can we learn from the experiences of our neighbours? The editors of Green Light take a deep dive and look into international innovations in car recycling. For this country report, we interviewed Catherine Lenaerts, the managing director of Febelauto, who represents the car recycling sector in Belgium.

Text Martijn Boelhouwer

Febelauto is a private initiative set up by various professional federations in the Belgian automotive industry. Together, these organisations make sure that cars and batteries in Belgium are recycled correctly. Febelauto recently acquired a stake in Watt4Ever, an organisation that gives car batteries a second life. The fact that this initiative did not go unnoticed was demonstrated at the Brussels Motor Show earlier this year. At the Febelauto stand, three federal ministers and various captains of industry learned more about the reuse of car batteries.

New form of collaboration

On 24 June 2020, Flemish minister of Mobility Lydia Peeters officially opened Watt4Ever for business by plugging in a battery, marking the launch of the company that converts batteries sourced from electric and hybrid vehicles into sustainable energy storage systems. “Preventing waste is a key part of sustainable policy and it is Febelauto’s ambition to make a real contribution to this in the car and battery recycling markets”, says managing director Catherine Laenaerts, explaining why Febelauto has a twenty percent stake in Watt4Ever.

From car to shop

In Belgium, Belgium has arrangements with some 44 car brands, even acting as the sole party tasked with collection and recycling cars for several of these. When it comes to recycling a hybrid or electric car, the battery is a very important component. “In our country, sales of new electric cars jumped from 47 in 2010 to 8,929 between January and the end of November of 2019. As a result, there are many more drive batteries available as well. With Watt4Ever, we want to absorb this increase by giving electric car batteries a second life. To make this possible, we have started replacing old diesel generators with car batteries to act as an emergency generator for checkout counters and elevators for a major supermarket chain with 400 outlets. This helps them cut emissions, avoid the use of noisy diesel generators, and become more sustainable.”

Riding the current

What other applications are there to re-use car batteries? “We believe there are four main groups. Batteries can be used as a backup, which is what the supermarket chain is doing, but batteries can also optimise the use of sustainable energy. By using the energy stored in the battery, we can reduce peak demand, easing the burden on our power grid. Because energy bills are based on peak loads, this will reduce energy costs. With kilowatt price differentiation, people can also opt to only use the power grid during off-peak hours, when the energy price is low. Batteries can also serve as a buffer to increase capacity, e.g. for fast chargers. Finally, batteries with a capacity greater than 1 megawatt can be harnessed to balance the power grid.”

"Our ambition is to contribute to a world without waste"
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A world without waste

The battery market is developing enormously. “By taking part in Watt4Ever together with four other companies, we can effectively bundle our knowledge. This consortium already has considerable expertise and together we can make a real contribution to the value chain. It is our ambition to contribute to a world without waste. In the coming year, the total capacity of our sustainable energy storage systems will increase to two megawatts, before rising to as much as 20 megawatts in the following years.”

A long track record of reuse

Febelauto has been involved in recycling cars since 1999. “I like pointing out that the car industry has a long track record of reuse. Just take the share of reused parts in the country’s total recycling efforts. In Belgium, accredited scrap car processors and auto shops make sure that 250 kg of parts are recycled per car, averaging a 26% reuse rate. I don’t know of any other sector with a rate this high.” At the same time, there are still some challenges to overcome. “The Netherlands is leading the way when it comes to digitisation. At Febelauto, we constantly strive to increase companies’ awareness of the opportunities of digitisation. A turnover growth as high as 30% is within arm’s reach, provided that digital systems for car parts are integrated and that uniform labels and methods of knowledge exchange are developed.”

Charting one’s own course

Febelauto represents all links in the car recycling supply chain, making it an excellent stage on which the sector’s knowledge and expertise can be put to use and shared and on which new rules can be tested for feasibility and practicality in advance. Because the country is divided into three regions and each region charts its own course, it can be more difficult to arrive at nationwide agreements than in the Netherlands. At the same time, Belgian law governs that all 126 accredited centres that collect discarded cars are affiliated with Febelauto. These companies do not receive any compensation from Febelauto, but are monitored by them.

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In Belgium it is regulated by law that all 126 accredited centers, where discarded cars can be returned, are affiliated with Febelauto

Extra plus

“For two years now, we have worked with ‘plus’ system for accredited centres, with ‘plus’ centres having trained staff and the right equipment and technology to safely remove drive batteries from electric and hybrid cars. These companies receive extra support from Febelauto and are the only companies to benefit from free battery collection. In the years to come, we will continue on raising awareness on safety issues by organising various webinars about safe transport, packaging and dismantling.” The exact dates can be found on the Febelauto website from November onwards. The webinars will be free of charge. “This way, we can continue to get car battery recycling the positive attention it deserves,” Catherine Lenaerts concludes.

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