Turning automotive plastic waste into new sustainable materials
A new research project involving Eastman shows how to recycle automotive-industry mixed plastic waste in the automotive supply chain.
Automakers have been building obsolescence into their products since the 1920s in order to compel consumers to upgrade to the latest models. But while cars and trucks aren’t designed to last forever, the increasing number of plastic components in scrapped vehicles will, which adds to the growing problem of plastic waste.
So it’s good news that specialty materials company Eastman has announced a collaboration with the United States Automotive Materials Partnership LLC (USAMP) and automotive recycler PADNOS for a concept feasibility study to demonstrate a closed-loop project to recycle automotive-industry mixed plastic waste in the automotive supply chain.
When automobiles are at the end of their life, metals, tires, and glass account for between 80 to 90 per cent of the materials that can be recycled through traditional mechanical recycling streams. The other 10 to 20 per cent, referred to as automotive shedder residue (ASR), consists of mixed plastic and other non-recycled materials that currently end up in landfills or are recovered through waste-to-energy technologies. Under this initiative PADNOS will use ASR as a sustainable feedstock for Eastman’s molecular recycling process, creating what Eastman officials are calling a “truly circular solution”.
The study will also assess how well Eastman’s carbon renewal technology (CRT), one of Eastman’s two molecular recycling technologies, breaks down the plastic-rich fraction of ASR into molecular building blocks. By recycling these complex plastics in CRT, Eastman says it can replace fossil-based feedstock and create polymers without compromising performance for use in new automotive applications.
USAMP sees the potential for energy savings and reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions while eliminating a significant fraction of the five to seven million tons of ASR generated annually in the U.S. from landfills.
“This 12-month automotive recycling project with Eastman and PADNOS is part of USAMP’s broad materials research and sustainability program,” said Steve Zimmer, executive director of USCAR. “Programs like this are critical to establishing a cost-effective pathway for addressing challenges associated with the consumption of ASR back into automotive parts to enable true industry circularity.”
Steve Crawford, executive vice president, chief technology, and sustainability officer for Kingsport, Tenn.-based Eastman, cited this as a good example of how collaboration across the value chain can bring material circularity into the mainstream. “Our molecular recycling technologies are recycling complex plastic waste at commercial scale now, but technologies alone won’t build a circular economy – it takes work across the value chain by multiple players who are determined to deliver sustainable solutions,” Crawford said. “That’s why this project is so exciting. The member companies of USCAR – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis – are accelerating their approach to designing for more sustainable end-of-life solutions, and this project can be a catalyst for circularity within the automotive value stream that addresses both the climate and waste plastic issues and reshapes what we thought was possible.”