Value in auto shredder residue

Click to Enlarge - Bassam Jody, group leader of the energy systems division at the Argonne National Laboratory, displays plastics recovered from shredder residue by the Argonne Separation process and successfully tested for making auto parts.
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There’s significant value to be found from auto shredder residue (ASR), if a new plastics recycling operation in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin proves to be the model for profitable recovery. And, it appears this venture has the partners and the technology to make it happen. EnviroPlastics Group, a subsidiary of Plastics Conversion Technologies headquartered in Spokane, Washington and Plas2Fuel Corporation, based in Kelso, Washington are teaming up to merge dedicated ASR sorting and cleaning with a chemical process that recycles plastics not suitable for resin markets into synthetic crude oil.

Raw ASR or shredder “fluff” presents growing problems for landfills because it contains contaminants at a time when environmental regulations are getting tighter. The prime concerns are metals like lead, copper, zinc and cadmium, petroleum hydrocarbons, volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds.

California, for example, has pending legislation (SB 524) to establish an auto shredder residue working group by February, 2010 to review and evaluate the practice of using ASR as alternative daily landfill cover to determine if it poses a threat to human health and the environment. Meanwhile, Rick Brasch, legislative director of the California Department of Toxic Substances told us, “Since the 1980s ASR has been permitted for alternative daily cover, but now we are reevaluating the constituents of ASR to determine if the current operating conditions adequately protect public health and environment.” Brasch went on to say that his department wants to work with the industry to see how to best control the risks and whether the current operating conditions do that or not.”

Yet, ASR consists of potentially valuable commodities – primarily plastics and non-ferrous metals. If these materials can be liberated into clean commodity streams for the resin and non-ferrous markets, and if the leftover plastics can be converted into fuels, it could be a successful model to profitably recycle ASR and help solve landfill problems.

The partners in the Fond du Lac project envision a network of scalable ASR recycling plants close to auto shredding operations to access feedstock and minimize transportation costs. If successful, these plants could save shredders on trucking costs and tipping fees and create a boom in ASR recycling.

No one seems to have an accurate measure of ASR volume generated by roughly 250 United States auto shredding operations. “As far as we know there are 250 to 270 auto shredders in the United States and a total of about 650 to 700 worldwide,” said Rusty Manning, director of new equipment sales for Riverside Engineering, an auto shredder manufacturer. Industry experts agree that the number of vehicles being shredded today is dramatically down due to the economy and the drop in metal prices. more

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Remanufactured auto parts: A good business gets better
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Click to Enlarge - During the restoration of the author’s 1981 Chevy pickup, many rebuilt parts were utilized. Rebuilt and remanufactured parts are key to keeping maintenance costs down for older cars.

Americans are keeping their cars on the road longer than ever before. This was confirmed in March in a study by R.L. Polk & Co, a provider of global automotive information. According to Polk, the median age of passenger cars in operation in 2008 was 9.4 years, a record high. That means if a new car was bought and driven 12,000 miles per year (about average), Americans are clocking an average of 112,800 miles before selling or trading.

“The current economic environment, coupled with high gas prices last spring and summer, have resulted in consumers delaying purchases of vehicles because their discretionary income has fallen,” said Dave Goebel of Polk’s aftermarket team. “Based on the uncertainty of what the future holds, consumers are trying to keep their current vehicles running longer, until their confidence improves.”

Polk analysts also anticipate that in bad economic times, the threshold of repair costs may increase. Consumers could feel as though paying a repair expense to keep the vehicle going for a year is more sensible or affordable than a monthly vehicle payment over an extended period of time.

Americans may be addicted to that new car smell, but hanging on to the old one and keeping it in good, safe running order is a smart way to stretch a budget, regardless of the economy. If properly maintained, vehicles can run for hundreds of thousands of miles and rebuilt parts are crucial to longevity. more