Years ago automobiles were simple: carburetors, molded sheet metal, simple vinyl and the ubiquitous ‘Corinthian Leather’. Pretty much anyone could change out a set of plugs, replace the brake pads or a used transfer case. It was a great time for the ‘shade tree’ mechanic.
Times change. Advanced technology and consumer demand drove car manufacturers to offer more hi-tech options: fuel injection, light-weight molded composites, real leather interior trim. The days of the shade tree mechanic were over. Junk yards are still littered with ‘end-of-life cars’, most of them stripped of any useful parts. This hasn’t changed over the years. However, what has changed is that these cars now contain composites and polymers that cannot be recycled and add mightily to the carbon cost faced by all. Keith Freegard, director of United Kingdom-based plastics recycling firm Axion Polymers, is calling on manufacturers to use ‘simpler’ plastics and metals at the design stage so that at the end of a car’s life, it would be easier to recycle these materials into new automobiles and discourage ‘virgin-based’ materials from being produced.
Locally-sourced, sustainable options
Freegard is calling on the sector to look at locally-sourced, sustainable options first. These materials can be found in junked cars and are readily available to recycling companies. These closed-loop plastics offer carbon savings of between 50 and 75 percent when compared with virgin polymers, he says, while the embedded carbon cost from selecting new materials can become a major proportion of a new vehicle’s total life cycle footprint.
Freegard’s main challenge is the balancing act of the manufacturer to develop light-weight, fuel-efficient cars, while at the same time use materials that may be recycled when the auto reaches the end of its useful life.
The Materials Innovation Showcase organized by the Knowledge Transfer Network at the 2015 Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle Event will take place Sept. 9-10 in Millbrook, U.K. Freegard says he will explain how Axion’s range of Axpoly® 100 percent recycled-content engineering polymers can help satisfy the design requirement of the next generation of low carbon vehicles.
The shifting auto industry
Electric and hydrogen powered cars are making inroads every day. These autos are presenting challenges to not only the producers, but also those like Freegard, who is observing the process from a different angle. “In my view, our rapidly growing automotive sector offers tremendous opportunity for innovate thinking and product design with the development of electric and hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicles requiring completely new concepts. Crucially, the potential for incorporating sustainably sourced recovered materials, that can offer cost savings in new components, should not be overlooked.”
Axion Polymers Axpoly® plastics are extracted from end-of-life vehicles at its shredder waste advanced processing plant (SWAPP) at Trafford Park, U.K., and then further refined at its nearby Salford facility.
The days of the ‘shade tree’ mechanic may indeed be over, but that does not mean automobile manufacturers cannot go back in time to ‘simpler’ components for their cars.
Keith Freegard is doing his part to make sure that this happens.