Audi and Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) have launched a pilot project for chemical recycling as a fraction of the Industrial Resource Strategies” THINKTANK, to assist feed mixed plastic fractions back into a resource-conserving circular system.
Many components in the automobile industry are made from plastics by meeting exacting safety, heat-resistance and quality requirements. Due to these regulations by far, only petroleum-based materials have been suitable for manufacturing plastic components in automobiles that come under the particularly intensive wear. These materials are not recyclable in most cases. However, some of them can be mechanically recycled though recycling mixed plastic waste comes with its own challenges.
The pilot has been launched to tackle this very challenge. The “Chemical Recycling of Plastics in Automotive Engineering” pilot project focuses on the creation of smart circular systems for plastics and to enforce this method as a complement to mechanical recycling and replacement of energetic recovery. By establishing this relationship with KIT, Audi hopes to test the technical feasibility of chemical recycling and then evaluate the method in terms of its economy and environmental impacts.
The evaluations are performed by KIT under Professor Dieter Stapf (PhD) at the Institute for Technical Chemistry (ITC) and Dr Rebekka Volk at the Institute for Industrial Production (IIP). For the evaluation and testing the company provides plastic components that are no longer needed such as, wheel trim parts and radiator grills, from Audi. The plastic components are then converted into pyrolysis oil by chemical recycling. The quality of this oil corresponds to that of petroleum products and the materials developed from them are equally high-grade ones. These components made from pyrolysis oil can be reused in the automobiles.
Chemical recycling so far has been the sole method that can be utilised to transform mixed plastic waste into products equaling the quality of new ones. This could help recover a wide range and volume of plastics. This method consumes valuable resources as less primary material are required. Audi is one of the first automobile manufacturers to test this recycling method in a pilot project with plastics from automobile production.
Audi has recognised chemical recycling as an opportunity with its suppliers as a part of CO2 workshops. The main objective of these workshops is to utilise resources as efficiently as possible and to reduce CO2 emissions in the upstream value chain by refocusing on materials that are either required in large quantities or entail particularly energy-intensive manufacturing processes.
Audi is planning to slowly increase the proportion of secondary materials in its models. Audi recently used PET in the Audi A3. PET is a plastic polymer that is separable from other materials with which it is combined making it easier to recycle. Moving ahead, the company aims to make all textile seat covers out of recycled materials across all model ranges.