Over 12 million vehicles reach the end of their useful life in the United States every year. The end-of-life vehicles are shredded, along with other metal bearing items such as home appliances, process equipment and demolition debris, and their metals content is recovered for recycling. About 5 million tons of shredder residues are generated in the U.S. annually and almost all of it end up in landfills.
Shredder residue contains valuable recyclable materials including polymers (over 30% by weight) and residual metals (about 5%-10% by weight) that if recovered, can be recycled. The objective of recycling projects is to maximize the cost-effective recycling of current and advanced automotive materials.
Long-term goals include
- Enabling the optimum recycling of automotive materials, thereby obviating the need for legislative mandates or directives,
- Enabling the recovery of automotive materials in a cost-competitive manner while meeting the performance requirements of the applications and markets for the materials, and
- Removing any recycling barriers/reasons, real or perceived, to the use of advanced lightweighting materials or systems in future vehicles.
One result of Argonne's research was the development of a process for the separation of materials from shredder residue that can be used in making quality products. In addition to separating polymers and other recyclables from shredder residue, the process has successfully separated and recovered plastics from other waste streams including waste generated from recycling:
- Home appliances,
- Electronics, and
- Floor care products such as vacuum cleaners and shampoo equipment.
The focus of the Argonne's research has been on developing cost-effective and field deployable processes for separating and purifying recyclable materials from industrial waste streams. Polymers have been high on the priority list because of the large quantities of these materials used in durable goods such as automobiles, home appliances and electronics.
Key to Argonne's vehicle recycling effort is the cooperative research program with the Vehicle Recycling Partnership and the American Plastics Council. The objective of this collaboration is to maximize the cost-effective recovery and recycling of automotive materials. The focal point of this effort is a large-scale pilot-plant to demonstrate Argonne developed automotive materials recycle technologies.