Mazda closes bumper recycling loop

Recycled bumper polypropylene (PP) that may be more than 10 years old is now finding its way into new rear bumpers for the Mazda Biante minivan thanks to recycling technology developed by the automaker over many years.

Mazda Motor Corporation (Hiroshima, Japan) began collecting damaged bumpers (that were replaced at dealer service centers) as far back as 1992 and recycling them for use as vehicle undercovers. In subsequent years, it continued to hone paint removal technology to the point where by 2003, joint development with recycling system manufacturer Satake Corporation (Hiroshima) had increased the paint removal rate to 99.9%. The resulting recycled plastic thus passed the necessary strength and quality for use as replacement painted bumpers. At this stage, however, recycling was still limited to relatively new damaged bumpers from a cost and technological standpoint.

In the latest development, Mazda says has become the world's first automaker to successfully recycle scrapped bumpers from end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) into raw material for new vehicle bumpers. The new technology made its commercial debut on August 21, 2011.

Conventionally, bumpers from ELVs are processed into automobile shredder residue (ASR) and incinerated to recover heat energy (thermal recycling). By enabling the ELV bumpers to be recycled into material for new vehicle bumpers, the new technology improves the material recycling ratio (MRR) of Mazda vehicles and contributes to more effective use of resources.

Many ELVs are over 10 years old, so the composition of the PP in the bumper and its adhesive properties towards the paint vary considerably according to Mazda. Before recycling, unwanted materials such as metal fragments must also be removed. As a result, processing ELV bumpers into new material has previously been technically and economically difficult.

To overcome this, in the 1990s Mazda began designing bumpers to be easily recyclable, and now the number of ELV bumpers that can be efficiently dismantled is increasing. Mazda has also developed and implemented efficient ELV bumper collection and processing methods in collaboration with Yamako Corporation and Takase Gosei Kagaku Corporation (both based in Hiroshima). As a result of these initiatives, the cost of recycling is less than the cost of purchasing new plastic.

Initially, Mazda is collecting bumpers from end-of-life Mazda vehicles in the Hiroshima area, and the recycled plastic will comprise approximately 10 percent of each new bumper produced.

Currently, approximately 20 percent by weight of ELVs (parts made of plastics, rubber and other materials) is incinerated as ASR. Bumpers comprise a large proportion of the plastic so collecting and recycling ELV bumpers is expected to make a significant contribution to reducing ASR and optimizing efficient use of resources.- mpweditorial@ubm.com

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