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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A National Approach to the Environmental Management of End-of-life Vehicles in Canada

The Automotive Recyclers of Canada is the national voice of the vehicle recycling industry representing, through its provincial affiliates, approximately 400 end-of-live vehicle (ELV) recyclers and dismantlers throughout Canada.

ELV processing represents one of the largest recycling sectors in Canada with about 1.2 million retired recycled each year. With a 94% ELV recovery and return rate, ELV waste diversion rates are higher than those for most provincial waste diversion programs. While ELV processors are subject to a number of provincial and federal requirements, ELV management practices are highly variable. The practice of processing ELVs throughout the country is not subject to consistent or comprehensive regulated standards. The lack of common processing standards for ELVs is significant. While used parts and scrap metal values are driving high recycling rates, ELVs also include a number of substances of concerns that incur costs when properly removed. It is common for many ELVs processors to reduce costs by ignoring environmental standards with respect to these materials. This creates an uneven playing field in the sector. While a number of vehicle recyclers operate to high environmental standards, with attendant high rates of reuse, recycling and minimal environmental discharges, the majority operate to no standard at all.

Increasingly this sector is becoming subject to a number of government waste management requirements. Different provincial and federal waste management initiatives create obligations with respect to how vehicles and vehicle components are managed. British Columbia has a requirement for ELV processors to establish waste management plans. Ontario has discussed designating ELVs for waste diversion in its mid-term plans. Quebec is expanding its extended producer responsibility (EPR) programs and will likely consider adding ELVs. The federal government has proposed implementing EPR rules related to the management of ozone depleting substances (ODS) including how those substances in vehicles are managed.

To date government initiatives to address vehicle components through waste diversion programs have not effectively addressed the serious environmental problems associated with ELV processing. The creation of EPR type waste management obligations with respect to ELVs, in the absence of a common and enforceable environmental standard for ELV processing, is likely to be counterproductive.

With respect to vehicle manufacturers, a national sector is threatened with a patchwork of various waste management requirements and obligations that are unlikely to generate actual improvements in ELV recycling. With respect to automotive recyclers, responsible businesses may be burdened with additional obligations, while their competitors continue to operate outside of provincial and federal waste management programs.

For the above reasons, the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC) believes that it is timely to consider a national standard with respect to ELV processing. One of the core objectives of such an approach is to implement and enforce a common environmental processing standard for ELVs. This would address the single most significant problem associated with ELV recycling in Canada today. In Ontario, where the base of Canada's automotive manufacturing sector operates, the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association (OARA), an ARC affiliate, has been working in collaboration with the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturer’s Association (CVMA) to create a licensing regime for vehicle recyclers in Ontario. The CVMA and ARC believe that the core elements of that proposal represent objectives that are readily achievable throughout Canada.

These include:

1) Codifying the National Code of Practice for Automotive Recyclers developed under the National Vehicle Scrappage Program (“Retire your Ride”) in provincially set regulation;
2) Licensing or registering businesses engaged in ELV processing to ensure sector-wide compliance with that common environmental processing standard; and
3) Auditing and monitoring processors and reporting annually on ELV recycling activity;

While the cross jurisdictional nature of environmental policy raises issues related to a national conception of ELV processing, both the ARC and CVMA believe that coordinating government policy in this area is an essential component to enhancing vehicle manufacturing competitiveness and generating positive environmental outcomes with respect to ELV waste management.

To download the discussion paper - A National Approach to the Environmental Management of End-of-life Vehicles in Canada

Friday, September 02, 2011

Rules badly needed for neglected auto recycling

Will the fate of defunct cars influence your vote in the Oct. 6 Ontario election?

What! You haven’t even thought about it? Perhaps you should.

After all, an estimated 550,000 vehicles are scrapped here every year. The business generally goes unnoticed.

Its problems would be relatively easy to fix, says the Ontario Automotive Recyclers Association, which represents one-third of Ontario’s car scrappers and wants whatever party that wins the election to commit to cleaning up this neglected industry.

Scrappers can make up to $300 per vehicle selling the useful parts or the steel, aluminum and other metals the junkers contain. That’s why 94 per cent are recycled.

Each car also contains, on average, 40 litres of gasoline, oil, transmission fluid, antifreeze and other liquids, as well as mercury, lead and other materials — most of them toxic. Some can also be reused or recycled; others must be disposed of. But all must be handled carefully.

When “end of life vehicles,” or ELVs, are processed well, the association says, 83 per cent of each vehicle, by weight, is reused or recycled.

The association’s 130 member companies must follow a code devised by a national group, the Automotive Recyclers of Canada, which was based on Environment Canada’s rules for the old Retire Your Ride scrappage program. It requires the nasty stuff to be drained or removed and handled like the hazardous waste it is, before the rest of the car is crushed and shredded. But association membership is voluntary, and the province’s 370 or so non-members are free to ignore it. While some treat the wastes properly, others “cut corners” and aren’t often caught.

The province doesn’t keep track of ELVs and exempts scrappers from the Environmental Protection Act provision that requires a Certificate of Approval for waste-disposal sites.

As for other provincial and federal anti-pollution rules, “some aspects of ELV handling are not regulated at all and where regulations do exist, enforcement is lacking,” the association says.

The result: Toxic materials become pollutants rather than resources. They soak into the ground or get emitted into the air. Some poison underground water, or lakes and rivers; others damage the earth’s protective high-level ozone layer or can cause respiratory diseases or cancer in humans.

“The release of 15 million litres of substances of concern in a single incident would likely generate headlines across the province,” the association says. “However, many small, daily releases . . . are happening across Ontario and this can be just as damaging to the environment.”

The group’s solution — supported by domestic and offshore carmakers — is a non-profit body to oversee all recyclers, who would be bound by the national code. Participation would be mandatory, and the companies, not carmakers or consumers, would pay — perhaps $10 per car — for the licensing and enforcement it would require.

Similar systems work well in parts of Europe. British Columbia has a flawed version: The government is responsible for enforcement and won’t spend enough to do that job.

Here, politics intervene.

The Conservatives won’t touch the idea because it appears to clash with their mantra of cutting taxes and red tape and their criticism of the government’s Eco-Fees — even though the association’s scheme is a business-oriented polar opposite of that botched program. The Liberals have said positive things about the plan but won’t set themselves up for attack on any policy that hints of regulation. The New Democrats are aligned with the United Auto Workers which, to protect union jobs, wants the carmakers made responsible for recycling.

But this is a good, simple idea that, as the association notes, is also a first step toward responsible, efficient battery recycling.

It deserves better.

Peter Gorrie for the Toronto Star

Thursday, September 01, 2011

There is no green car without green recycling - but where's the profit?

Fancy Batteries in Electric Cars Pose Recycling Challenges
With fleets of electric cars starting to hit the roads, the next big mother lode for salvage companies is expected to be the expensive batteries that power them.

Yet even as automakers vaunt the ways these cars can benefit the environment, they are divided over how best to handle the refuse: recycle or repurpose.

That is worrying some companies involved in ''urban mining'' - a voguish term that refers to extracting valuable metals from all kinds of discarded electronics. They have already begun spending money to build an infrastructure to handle the flood of partly depleted battery packs that are expected to enter the waste stream; Frost & Sullivan, a consulting firm, puts the number at about 500,000 a year by the early 2020s.

''There is no green car without green recycling,'' said Ghislain Van Damme, a manager at Umicore, a company based in Hoboken that is one of the world's largest recyclers of precious and specialty metals from electronic waste.

Companies that fail to plan for recycling face ''brand damage'' at the very least, he said, as well as potential fines and legal action if the batteries end up being illegally incinerated or dumped in landfills. In many cases, automakers will be responsible for final disposal of the batteries - even if they did not actually manufacture them - because of stricter laws governing recycling, especially in Europe.

Any sense of urgency in developing recycling capacity has been dampened, however, by the cost factor. The newest, most-powerful lithium-based batteries are also less valuable to recycle than earlier ones.

Lithium is plentiful, compared with the nickel and cobalt found in hybrid and all-electric car batteries developed earlier, even if the main sources of the metal, in countries like Chile and Bolivia, are far from auto production centers.

''You can count on a constant and growing thirst for metals, including lithium,'' said P.Aswin Kumar, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan. ''But lithium still costs about five times more to recycle than to mine, so environmental laws will drive recycling for now.''

Shoebox-size, lead-acid batteries have powered ignition and lighting in gasoline- or diesel-powered cars for decades. They already are widely recycled, mainly because lead is such a health hazard.

The batteries for hybrid and all-electric cars are far more powerful and much larger, with some weighing about 250 kilograms, or 550 pounds. They also can be the car's most expensive component, mostly because of the complexity in making them, rather than the value of the materials.

Complicating the question of disposal, a large amount of energy remains stored even in partially discharged batteries. These could deliver harmful shocks and pose a serious fire hazard if mishandled.

For now, automakers are going their individual ways.

Toyota Motor, whose experience goes back to 1998, shortly after the introduction of the RAV4 all-electric vehicle, has established partnerships in Europe and the United States to recycle batteries, including those used in the hybrid Prius. This year, it began shipping some batteries from Prius models sold in the United States to Japan to take advantage of a more-efficient recycling process there.

Honda Motor recycled nearly 500 batteries during 2009 from the electric hybrid models it began selling in Japan more than a decade ago. But it still is exploring ways to structure that part of its business as it rolls out models like the Insight and the CR-Z.

General Motors and Nissan Motor, whose Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf are newer to the market, are taking a different tack. They have agreements with power companies to develop ways of reusing old batteries, perhaps for storing wind or solar energy during peak generating times for later use.

Bayerische Motoren Werke, known for its premium BMW line, continues to carry out research on whether to recycle or reuse the batteries from its Mini E, an all-electric car it began leasing on a limited basis in 2009.

Meanwhile, some governments have begun to get involved to ensure that their car industries are not undermined by sourcing or safety issues.

In the United States, the Department of Energy has granted $9.5 million to Toxco to build a specialized recycling plant in Ohio for electric vehicle batteries. It is expected to begin operations next year, handling batteries from a variety of makes and models.

Another pilot plant being built in the German state of Lower Saxony is expected to open at the end of this month. The German government gave Chemetall, which is part of a consortium called LithoRec that includes Volkswagen and its Audi unit, (EURO)5.7 million, or $8.2 million, of the (EURO)14.3 million cost.

The British government granted £500,000, or $813,000, this year for a similar project to a group of companies including Axeon, which makes lithium-based car batteries.

Such recycling ''is entirely nonexistent in the U.K. at the moment,'' said Lawrence Berns, the chief executive of Axeon.

In Belgium, Umicore plans a formal opening for a (EURO)25 million plant in September in Hoboken, just outside of Antwerp, that can recover nearly all of the elements packed inside electric and hybrid car batteries, including cobalt, nickel, lithium and even rare earths like neodymium.

The plant uses intense heat - more than 1,300 degrees Celsius (2,370 Fahrenheit) - to strip away plastic coatings and creates a plasma, or ultrahigh-temperature gas, to separate metals and other materials.

The process yields tree-trunk-size chunks of gnarled metal alloy, some weighing more than 2,000 kilograms.

Umicore refines those chunks to create metals for resale to manufacturers of car batteries, wind turbines and other high-technology products.

It also recovers a gravelly substance, or slag, that Rhodia, a French chemical company, refines for rare earths like neodymium. Given the recent restrictions by China on exporting such materials, more companies are looking at doing the same.

Mr. Van Damme said the Umicore plant's design could be enlarged to handle more than a million car batteries each year; the current capacity is 150,000.

Even before the official inauguration, it has recycled some batteries from the Prius, mostly from models that were involved in accidents or scrapped early. Honda said that Umicore was ''a serious option'' for its future recycling plans.

But, so far, the only car company that has announced a deal with Umicore is Tesla Motors, of Palo Alto, California, whose electric roadsters start at more than $100,000. Tesla will pay to recycle its battery packs from models sold in Europe after seven to 10 years on the road. The final cost to Tesla would depend partly on the market value of the metals recovered by Umicore.

Tesla said that it was also working with Toxco in the United States.

Some manufacturers, like G.M. and Nissan, are focused on deferring recycling for as long as possible. They estimate that even at the end of their motoring life, the batteries should still be able to hold about 70 percent of the power of a new one.

Nissan has formed a joint venture called 4R Energy with Sumitomo, a Japanese conglomerate, aimed at using the old batteries for storing energy from renewable energy sources like wind and solar and for backup power supplies in emergencies.

It might be possible to ''make recycling a profitable business in the future,'' said Takashi Sakagami, the president of 4R Energy.

Similarly, G.M. is working with ABB, a Swiss engineering company, to identify ways to use old Chevrolet Volt batteries as backup power sources in the event of power failures, and to improve reliability of electricity grids.

Even after 10 years of driving, a ''second life'' of 20 years for the battery could be viable, said Pablo Valencia, a senior manager at G.M.

And afterward?

''We're still working on that, so stay tuned,'' he said.

BY JAMES KANTER, The International Herald Tribune