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Closed-Loop Recycling of Automotive Mixed Plastic Waste Deemed a Success

Eastman and partners have successfully demonstrated first-of-its-kind plastic recycling using a by-product of shredded end-of-life vehicles.

Posted by Staff

April 21, 2023

3 Min Read
graphic showing closed-loop recycling of automotive mixed plastic waste
Image courtesy of Eastman

Eastman has announced the successful completion of its closed-loop recycling project for automotive mixed plastic waste. Through a collaborative effort, Eastman, the United States Automotive Materials Partnership LLC (USAMP), automotive recycler Padnos, and global automotive interior supplier Yanfeng demonstrated first-of-its-kind plastic recycling using a by-product of shredded end-of-life vehicles.

Technology diverts plastic waste from landfill

When automobiles are at the end of their life, metals, tires, and glass account for 80 to 90% of the materials that can be recycled through traditional mechanical recycling streams. The other 10 to 20%, referred to as automotive shredder residue (ASR), consist of mixed plastic and other nonrecycled materials that currently end up in landfills or are recovered through waste-to-energy technologies. Under this initiative, Padnos supplied a plastic-rich fraction of ASR as a sustainable feedstock to Eastman's carbon renewal technology. Eastman successfully demonstrated addition and conversion of that ASR feedstock into a synthesis gas (syngas), which is subsequently used downstream in the production of its polyester and cellulosic thermoplastics.

Resins from this production process were further formulated and then supplied to Yanfeng. The parts molded by Yanfeng for demonstration were successfully tested to meet a variety of OEM – Ford, GM, and Stellantis – requirements, thereby demonstrating proof of concept for a truly circular solution.

Project proves feasibility of molecular recycling

The study proved feasibility of Eastman's carbon renewal technology (CRT), one of Eastman's two molecular recycling technologies, which breaks down the plastic-rich ASR into molecular building blocks. By recycling these complex plastics in CRT, Eastman can replace fossil-based feedstock and create polymers without compromising performance for use in new automotive applications.

In addition to diverting waste from landfills, USAMP, a subsidiary of the United States Council for Automotive Research LLC (USCAR), also sees the potential for energy savings and reduced overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Deloitte Consulting estimates that more than 10 billion pounds (4.5 million toones) of ASR is sent to landfills globally each year.

"We are encouraged by the initial results of this study," said Warwick Stirling, USCAR Executive Director. "Innovative processes that enable ASR to be used in automotive parts can help bring us closer to more fully recycling end-of-life vehicles and enabling the possibility of a truly circular economy."

On the road to circularity

"This is a prime example of how collaboration across the value chain is essential to making material circularity mainstream," said Steve Crawford, Eastman’s executive vice president of manufacturing and chief sustainability officer. "Modern cars are made with approximately 50% plastics by volume, on average; and this number is only expected to increase as automotive manufacturers continue to seek lighter electric vehicles. We're demonstrating a future where automotive hard-to-recycle plastics and fibers are diverted from landfills and recycled to produce new automotive parts."

Kari Bliss, principal of sustainability at Padnos, said, "The collaboration on this project is indicative of the work that is needed to create closed-loop and circular economy solutions. Our purpose statement is on full display with this project — to continue to find ways to innovate, lead, and make a positive impact in this world. We are proud to be the mechanical recycler involved in this complex endeavor, which is the first of its kind in North America."

"Yanfeng is honored to be part of this project with USAMP, Padnos, and Eastman,” said said Jeff Stout, executive director of global innovation for Yanfeng. “Circularity and keeping plastic waste out of landfills is a priority for our company and the industry. We see a lot of potential with the resin developed with molecular reprocessing. We are pleased with the performance of the interior components we molded during the study and believe it would be a sustainable solution in production."

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