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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Auto shredder residue recycling researched

Automobile recyclers have long wondered what to do with shredder residue, the leftover material that remains after shredding vehicles and recovering the metals.

If research that is underway at Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois is commercialized, two potential options for the nation’s shredder residue would include turning foam into carpet padding and transforming the plastics into battery trays.

“Up to 60 percent of the residue can be recovered as usable materials,” said Bassam Jody, group leader of the energy systems division at the research lab.

With most of the shredder residue currently sent to landfills, the United States generates around 5 million tons of the leftover material annually, Jody estimates. About 30 percent of the material, by weight, is polymers and 10 percent is residual metals.

Argonne, funded by the United States Department of Energy, has spent around $5 million to develop the process to recycle the residue, Jody estimates. Although the basic concept was developed more than 15 years ago, the last 5 years have been used to develop a pilot plant to demonstrate that the recycling system works, Jody said.

“Based on this work, we are now preparing a full-scale process design and cost estimate as a possible next step in achieving commercialization of the technology.”

The separation system is a continuous dry process that separates the shredder residue – a mixture of polymers, wood, glass, residual metals, rocks, sand and dirt.

After removing any oversized material to protect the equipment, the residue is conveyed to a shredder to further reduce the size. The residue is then conveyed to a trommel to separate the bits and pieces. A magnetic separation chamber recovers the ferrous metals and an eddy current separator recovers the non-ferrous metals.

The resulting material contains more than 90 percent of the recycled polymers originally present in the shredder residue, Jody said. By weight, about 80 percent of this fraction is polymers and contains more than two dozen different types of polymers.

Since most of these polymers are not compatible with each other, the second part of the process uses a wet flotation system that separates the polymers by selectively floating or sinking the polymers.

Recycling the polymers and residual metals in the 5 million tons of shredder residue produced annually would save the equivalent of 24 million barrels of oil a year and would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 12 million tons, Jody estimates.

Some of the shredder residue still ends up in a landfill, however. After all the recyclables are recovered from the shredder residue during the process, the remaining material – including dirt, glass, sand and other in-organics – is sent to a landfill.

“Shredder residue is one of the leading problematic materials resulting from the recycling process,” said Charles Ossenkop, chair of the technical advisory committee for the Automotive Recyclers Association. The committee monitors recycling issues related to automotive design, material usage and recycling techniques for the trade group.

Ossenkop said the trade group’s committee plans to discuss the economics behind recovering shredder residue with researchers at Argonne within the next year.

The biggest hurdle for recycling shredder residue is the cost, Ossenkop said, noting it is often more expensive to recycle, transport and remanufacture recycled material. “Virgin material is cheap enough that it often doesn’t justify the cost,” he said.

Shredder residue goes beyond automotive recycling. David Wagger, director of environmental management at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc., estimates that 40 percent of shredder residue derives from end-of-life appliances, with the remaining 60 percent of residue coming from old vehicles.

While most of the shredder residue ends up in landfills, Wagger expects to see more uses for shredder residue in the future. He said it would provide additional value to shredder operations by reducing waste-disposal costs and increasing product sales.

The economics behind recycling shredder residue are more favorable in today’s market than in the past, said Paul Johansen, a technology marketing consultant with Johansen Marketing Consulting Ltd., in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Transportation costs have gone up, tipping fees at landfills have increased, and shredder operations do not have enough land to store the shredder residue, Johansen said. But he said the viability of any solution for shredder residue will vary by region.

“There are significant differences in distances to landfills, trucking costs and environmental regulations,” Johansen said, adding that there are often marketing challenges involved with introducing new technologies. “A good new technology can languish for years unless there is a good plan on how to commercialize it.”

by Brian R. Hook,

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Time to license auto recyclers?

The best auto recyclers carefully remove any reusable parts, such as tires and wheels, for resale and drain any remaining fluids for safe disposal.

"A free-for-all."

"An abomination."

Strong words about an industry that's supposed to perform a beneficial service.

And they come from people within it.

They are car recyclers.

It isn't fresh news that there are problems and scams among those who dismantle and dispose of old or wrecked vehicles. What is astonishing is that solutions are as obvious as they are ignored.

There are good operators: Most belong to the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association and its national counterpart. But they are a small minority. The term "abomination" came from association member David Gold, of Scarborough's Standard Auto Wreckers. "Anyone can do anything, and everyone does do everything," he says.

Gold estimates careful businesses handle just 10 per cent of all end-of-life vehicles, or ELVs. That leaves plenty who don't do the job properly.

They buy cars, strip the most profitable bits, then send the rest for crushing without removing the battery, filters, mercury switch and the 40 or 50 litres of fluids each usually contains. The contaminants get into the environment, mainly into groundwater or, through sewers, into lakes and rivers. Mercury, which attacks the nervous system, can be released into the air if it's mixed with scrap steel in a blast furnace. Refrigerants escape to attack the ozone.

The Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association has its own code. But it's voluntary. The province inspects recyclers after complaints, but imposes no overall standards. While municipal approval is required to openly set up shop, there are no rules that each ELV and its contents must be accounted for.

Nothing prevents anyone from buying cars, dragging them to a warehouse and stripping them behind closed doors, before hauling the remnants to one of many crushers – who aren't required to ask questions, and don't.

"They're not licensed ... they don't have our expenses or responsibilities," says Jordan Waxman of Hollywood North Auto Parts. "If they're not licensed, they shouldn't be allowed to dismantle vehicles."

"If you've got a tow truck and a cellphone and can pay cash for cars, no one is really stopping you from that," says Steve Fletcher, the association's executive director. He's the one who described the situation as a free-for-all.

Licensing would go a long way to clean up the industry.

Most ELVs come from insurance auctions or car dealerships. These sources could be required to sell only to licensed recyclers who abide by strict standards.

It would also help to require cars to be officially deregistered before they're scrapped. Europe and Japan do that. To give their systems teeth, they impose a disposal fee when a car is bought. It's passed on to any buyer during the car's life and is refunded to the final owner.

The European Union has directed each member country to achieve 90 per cent recycling or reuse of cars by 2012. We don't need that kind of rule since, in terms of such numbers, cars are actually a recycling success here. Even illicit operators keep 75 to 80 per cent of a car's components out of landfills.

They just do it in a way that harms the environment.

The big mystery is why government won't crack down. Surely it isn't cowering before a powerful lobby representing environmental pirates. Does it fear insurance auctioneers, worried that licensing might reduce the number of bidders and depress their profits?

"We're looking to be regulated," Gold says. "What's holding government back?"

A very good question.


Auto wreckers scrap the old ways

Junkyards are dogged by greasy stereotypes, but that's changing in the age of recycling

Battered cars, far removed from their glittering showroom days, occupy most of the dirt yard behind the gaudily painted fence.

In a front corner, used tires – some on wheels, all with sizes scrawled in yellow marker – fill several racks.

Out back sit piles of crushed cars, eight high, flattened to less than a quarter of their original gleaming height.

A constant trickle of customers enters the office – a trailer with vintage 1960s dark brown panelling – to inquire about tires, mirrors, hoods and mufflers.

The scene and the odour of deeply embedded oil and grease suggest nothing has changed in the car-wrecking business. A junkyard is still a junkyard.

Not always true, says Jordan Waxman, who runs this yard, Hollywood North Auto Parts. In the east end of downtown Toronto, it's the latest version of a family company that has taken in unwanted vehicles for more than a century. Waxman is among a small group trying to change the industry.

Car recycling is virtually unregulated in most of North America. What happens to your vehicle when it reaches the end of its road, because of age or accident, depends on what kind of operation it goes to.

Almost everyone who takes in cars does the same basic things: Valuable parts are removed, the rest is sold for scrap. But some do the job carefully, in ways that make efficient use of the materials and protect the environment, while others make the biggest, quickest profit, and usually leave a mess.

"We're trying to get away from the image of the junkyard," says Michael Carcone, whose business is in Aurora. "We're a green company. We are recyclers."

Every year, about 1.2 million cars and light trucks are taken off the road across Canada, half in Ontario. They're known as end-of-life vehicles, or ELVs.

Car recyclers buy them through insurance company auctions or from dealerships, charities and individuals. The price ranges from $50 to thousands of dollars.

Once a recycler has obtained some cars, this is how they should be handled, according to the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association:

The best vehicles – quite often late-model insurance writeoffs – have their reusable parts carefully removed, cleaned and tested for resale. Computerized records are transforming this side of the business. Recyclers can offer or search for parts online. By carefully keeping track of how well various parts sell, they know which are worth the trouble of removing and cleaning.

Carcone knows, for example, that a 2002 Toyota Camry has 14 parts likely to be bought. They're removed right away. The rest of the car is stored for a few months in case someone calls for a component – anything from an oil pan to a CD player.

Most lower-quality cars are made available for backyard mechanics to pull off parts for themselves. Those in the worst shape go directly to the crusher. Eventually, that's the fate of almost every ELV.

First, though, batteries and gas tanks are removed. Good ones are resold. The rest go to companies that recycle or safely dispose of their components. Tires, too, either become second-hand items or are shredded for use as a fuel in incinerators or cement kilns. They're also made into building materials, road surfacing, mats and other products.

Any remaining gas, oil, antifreeze, windshield cleaner and other fluids – an average of 40 to 50 litres per car – is drained out and cleaned for use. Mercury switches, found only in pre-2004 models, are taken out so the dangerous metal can be recovered.

Crushed cars go to shredders that break them into tiny pieces. Magnets and other devices separate the component metals, which make up about 75 per cent of the vehicle. What's left behind – an assortment of plastics, cloth, rubber and broken glass – is known as fluff. Some of it can, in theory, be recycled, but for now, those in the industry say the markets are too small and prices too low for that. So most of it goes to landfill.

There's good and bad news on that front, says Steve Fletcher of the Recyclers Association. On one hand, increasing use of composite and sandwiched materials makes recycling more difficult. On the other hand, carmakers are trying to reduce the number of plastics they use and are developing materials made of hemp, flax and other organic materials.

Japanese manufacturers now collect plastic bumpers for recycling. They're also trying to figure out what to do with the increasing number of plastic gas tanks: A report from Honda concludes the best option might be to incinerate them, to produce heat and electricity.

Unfortunately, most ELVs are not handled properly, says David Gold of Standard Auto Wreckers in northeast Scarborough. Cars are now too valuable to be dumped in fields or along roadsides.

But unlike Europe and Japan, Ontario – and most of Canada, in fact – has no performance standards or regulations for the industry. There's just a voluntary code established by the association.

As a result, about 90 per cent of ELVs end up with operators who strip off the most valuable parts, such as copper from radiators and precious metals from catalytic converters, and crush the rest, without draining the fluids or removing batteries and other hazardous parts. So toxic materials spill onto the ground, where they can seep into the sewer system, and many valuable parts and materials are wasted.

How can you tell what will happen to your vehicle?

You can try to make sure it goes to an association-certified recycler. That isn't always easy, particularly if you leave it with the dealer where you buy your new car.

You can also take it to Car Heaven, a non-profit program managed in Ontario and several other provinces by the Clean Air Foundation. It offers a small tax receipt and ensures your ELV is carefully disposed of.

Unlike many legitimate recyclers, it doesn't allow engines, mufflers or pollution-control parts to be resold. Next year, it's to be expanded to a national program with bigger incentives.


Salvaging useful car parts

Don't call it a scrapyard. Or junkyard. Or boneyard. "It's a recycling yard, a recycling centre, a salvage yard," says Don Laniel firmly.

Laniel is general manager of the sprawling but pristine Sonshine Auto Parts just south of Cumberland Village. Spread over about 30 acres, Sonshine has 2,100 vehicles in stock, and they're anything but the canted hulks we think of when Arlo Guthrie sings about "the graveyards of rusted automobiles."

"We have a minimal number of vehicles older than 1996; we actually have some 2009s in here," says Laniel with pride. Sounding like a mortician describing the meticulous preparation of a corpse for viewing, he continues, "the gas tanks are removed and the fluids are all drained. We have a special area for the batteries, and we recycle the gas by using it in our own fleet. The oil and the Prestone and the CFCs are collected and picked up by a company for recycling."

Heck, the place is so squeaky clean that customers have compared it to a doctor's office. Speaking of doctors, there's even a small putting green out front.

With $4 to $5 million of inventory on hand, Sonshine sells parts – alternators, mirrors, entire engines – mostly to service stations and bigger shops. And thanks to the company's membership in auto parts recycling associations in Canada and the United States, those parts could wind up almost anywhere.

But there's still walk-in trade, says Laniel – DIY folks looking for anything from a taillight to a "red fender for a 2003 Ford F-150" that Sonshine's bells-and-whistles inventory system will immediately locate. Or not. Sometimes it has to be ordered from another recycler. But at a saving of 50 per cent compared to a new part, and with a warranty of 90 days, it can be well worth the wait.

Sales, Laniel says, follow the seasons. Air conditioning compressors are a hot item in the summer, while this time of year brings customers looking for rims and tires.

No matter what the season, "It's a blast here," says Laniel. "We've got five salesmen, and it's always interesting. You're never dealing with the same issues. I'm in here at seven in the morning and most nights I don’t get home ’til seven."

A self-employed body man by trade whose profession was taking its toll on his own body, Laniel was coaxed into joining Sonshine by Denis Desjardins, a long-time friend and owner of the recycling yard. In addition to overseeing 24 staff, Laniel journeys to car auctions and attends trade shows.

If you stop in at Sonshine, don’t expect to go stumping around the yard, wrenches in hand. A common site in the boneyards of earlier decades, that's now off-limits because of insurance and liability issues. Instead, Sonshine employees remove the parts.

And when there's nothing left to remove, it's time for the big squeeze. Sonshine's mighty crusher reduces the picked-over automobiles to a mere 24-inches high for shipment to one of several companies that grind the cars into small bits of metal. Those bits join the roughly 145 million tons of scrap produced every year in North America that re-enter the manufacturing cycle instead of plugging landfills.

With this sort of identification and utilization of every useful element, it's no wonder Laniel calls automotive recycling an "economic science."

Just don't call it a scrapyard.

by Patrick Langston, Orleans Star / Weekly Journal, Daily news from Orléans and East Ottawa

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vehicle Recycling Partnership (VRP) Video

Watch a vide from the Vehicle Recycling Partnership (VRP), a pre-competitive coalition of auto manufacturers, and their perspectives on the North American auto recycling industry.