Extending the lifecycle of ELV - trends and regulations

The automotive industry is among the largest consumers of primary materials and thereby a huge emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. Considering the European Green Deal’s ambitions to reduce GHG emissions and the aluminum industry’s efforts to support decarbonization efforts, it is crucial to reassess the way we use carbon-intensive and precious raw materials.  
ELV machines
In Europe, more than six million vehicles reach their end-of-life every year. Most of them end up as waste, which entails a considerable loss of valuable raw materials – worth millions. In times when resources are increasingly becoming rare, climate change has become more apparent than ever before, we must extend the lifecycle of the materials already produced by recovering and recycling. The good news is that it is possible, the infrastructure and the technology already exist. 

Recycling vehicles is anything but a walk in the park. Vehicles are made of multiple materials, from plastic, aluminum, glass, rubber, steel, and many more precious metals – vehicles have it all. While all these materials are indispensable for the manufacture of safe and convenient cars, they add complexity to the dismantling and recycling process as these materials require different methods of separation and processing.​

From end-of-life to second life

Typically, end-of-life vehicles (ELV) are shredded in the scrap yard and specific materials, such as tires, cables, batteries and other hazardous materials, are removed manually. After shredding the material is passed through air systems and magnets which separate non-ferrous and ferrous metals. The generated ferrous fraction is then further processed.

Steel makers are now demanding super-low copper shredded steel. Artificial intelligence using neural networks will soon be able to help produce low copper steel and the story doesn't end there. With x-ray-based sorting machines, plant operators can recover aluminum from the non-ferrous metal fraction and further separate cast and wrought aluminum, adding extra value by creating furnace-ready products.  Thus, the aluminum recovered from ELV can directly go into remelt and be used as a secondary raw material to produce new aluminum-based materials with a considerably lower carbon footprint. Compared to primary production, recycling aluminum is 95% less energy-intense than primary production.  

Latest advances in Libs technology (Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy) allow recyclers to take the aluminium fraction to the next level and help the automotive sector achieve its net zero goals. Libs allows post-consumer and post-production scrap to be transformed into individual alloys such as 5.xxx and 6.xxx alloys for example.
Pure aluminum alloys after LIBS sorting

Although ELV recycling rates are currently > 95% there is still the age-old problem of ASR (Automobile Shredder Residue). This valuable material is traditionally landfilled or incinerated. The technical plastics which are mainly black and contaminated cannot be separated by traditional sensor-based technology, but technical advancements and legislation-driven incentives will drive the recycling of the most difficult residues. Sorting of brominated flame retardants (BFR) and PVC is already possible and soon sorting black technical plastics into individual polymers will be normal practice.

Regulatory frameworks

Automotive recycling is critical for the industry's efforts in decarbonization, but despite the available technologies, challenges still remain. Overcoming these requires a concerted effort from the entire value chain and policies that help turn the wheel towards greater circularity in the automotive industry. 

Numerous factors are impeding a more mindful and sustainable management of ELVs. Vehicles are not designed with recyclability in mind and little recycled content is incorporated into new cars. Moreover, many materials must be imported due to a lack of high-quality materials in sufficient quantities. At the same time, cars go missing and simply disappear and thereby tons of recyclable materials.

To improve end-of-life vehicle management and maximize the efficient use of resources, the European Union discussed amendments to the Directive on end-of-life vehicles (ELV Directive), which we consider very promising and future-forward. The new proposal addresses the entire life cycle of ELVs and advocates for design for recycling, an increase of recycled content, EPR schemes and many more actions that will help collect, recover and recycle more. 

Once implemented and adhered to at scale, it is estimated that 12.8 million tons less CO2 will be emitted and 5.4 million tons of high-quality materials will be recycled or reused.2 Intelligent and advanced sorting technology will play a pivotal role in enabling this change. We are committed to leading the resource revolution and supporting the industry's efforts towards greater circularity and decarbonization.

For more information on sensor-based sorting technology, visit https://www.tomra.com/en/waste-metal-recycling/applications/metal-recycling

Exclusively published by Auto Recycling World
Terence Keyworth_Segment Manager Metals TOMRA Recycling Sorting
Terence Keyworth
Segment Manager Metal Recycling North/East Europe at TOMRA Recycling Sorting