There's a lot of work
involved to prepare and crush an automobile for recycling.
Done properly, batteries are removed, glass is recovered
and some recyclers remove wheels, tires and other components
for separate, more specialized operations.
Among the chores is a particularly important step - recovery
and recycling of various fluids in tanks, systems and reservoirs
throughout the vehicle. Whether it's engine coolant, motor
oils or refrigerant in the air-conditioning system, everything
has to go, and it has to be done in accordance with Federal,
state and local laws.
To do things right, auto dismantlers need an impervious
surface, such as a concrete pad to drain and recover fluids.
In volume operations, a lift, specialized rack or pit is
essential for safe, fast access to the vehicle.
Most engine coolant - or "anti-freeze" as we know
it, contains ethylene glycol (EG), a toxic chemical mixed
with water to facilitate the heat exchange process. Newer
coolants may also be based on propylene glycol (PG), which
is less toxic, but more expensive than EG. Regardless of
glycol-type, equipment for recovery of engine coolant can
vary widely. Typically, the choices range from a simple,
"funnel and barrel" approach, to high-tech, microprocessor
controlled stations. Abe Garcia, Marketing Director for
Fluid Evacuators, Inc., of Phoenix, Arizona said, "The
best methods for recovery of coolants involve purpose-built
equipment, and it doesn't have to be complicated. The EPA
takes a close look at auto recycling. Benefits from using
the right tools include reduced health risks for service
techs, fewer risks to the environment and better compliance
all the way around."
Coolant recovery is often accomplished by piercing the radiator
with a probe and drawing the coolant out into a holding
tank under vacuum. Other methods include cutting a hose
or opening the drain, access permitting. Once the tank is
full, recovered coolant is then transferred to a larger
vessel and collected by processors for recycling.
Recovered engine coolants are either distilled, or filtered
to separate the water from the glycol. Contaminants such
as rust, inhibitors and other chemicals are removed, leaving
the base glycol compound. Louis Nichilo, Inside Sales Manager
for Finish Thompson, Inc. of Erie, Pennsylvania, makers
of coolant recycling equipment said, "Additives are
available to mix with the recovered glycol, then distilled
water is blended in at the appropriate ratio. The result
is a fully recycled engine coolant that performs very well."
Oils, Fluids and Gasoline
Motor oil, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, brake
fluid, gas…the list goes on. All of these liquids
must be removed from a vehicle prior to crushing. Due in
part to EPA regulations, this process is becoming easier
than ever before.
Iron Ax, Inc., of Wadley, Georgia, saw an opportunity and
developed a single piece of equipment capable of collecting
nearly all types of automotive fluids. The "Enviro-Rack"
allows high volume auto recyclers to collect fluids quickly,
safely and with maximum containment. It is the auto recycling
industry's first dedicated rack for the purpose of recovering
fluids. According to John Kitchens, Vice President, Iron
Ax, "EPA fines in some states can run as much as $30,000
or more for a single violation. We developed the rack to
reduce that risk. It gives customers an option that speeds
up the process and keeps everything off the ground,"
Aside from emptying the on-board bulk containers, there
is no other maintenance associated with the rack.
The most widespread method for general fluid recovery involves
separate pieces of equipment for each type, such as those
from Fluid Evacuators. Abe Garcia points out, "One
of the most important considerations is to avoid cross-contamination
of the contents. Most auto recyclers don't perform recycling
of fluids on site and most processors won't accept co-mingled
materials. Keeping things clean assures the auto recycler
of getting paid for the fluids he recovers," he said.
When the recovery tanks on fluid collectors are full, recovered
fluids are transferred to larger, bulk containers typically
provided by fluid recyclers or processors. The transfer
is accomplished by pressurizing the tank with shop air to
about 15 psi, moving the fluid to the larger, bulk container.
Recovery of gasoline requires additional safeguards, due
to its volatility. Specialized equipment from producers
such as W.E.N. Industries allows auto recyclers to recover
gasoline and filter it before re-dispensing for use.
Nearly every vehicle on the road today is air-conditioned.
Draining the refrigerant in automotive air-conditioning
systems requires both specialized training and equipment.
Marc Rosone, Marketing Manager - Fluid Products for Owatonna,
Minnesota-based Robinair, said, "Anyone that services
an automotive air-conditioning system today must pass a
test administered by the EPA. Without EPA certification,
you're not in the business," he said. The training,
known as "609 Certification," prepares service
technicians for handling refrigerants classified as hazardous
to the environment.
Refrigerant can be either a gas or a liquid, depending on
pressures and temperatures inside the air-conditioning system.
Service techs must tap the system through "access fittings"
built in to the air-conditioning lines of the vehicle. Once
attached, refrigerant is drawn from the vehicle through
hoses into a "recovery station." Most refrigerant
recovery stations are portable, microprocessor-controlled
units that require minimal input from the operator.
Refrigerants, like coolant, can be recycled as well. Most
recycling stations remove impurities by pumping the recovered
refrigerant through a series of filters. The recycled refrigerant
can then be pumped into approved containers and reused accordingly.
Marc Rosone, of Robinair notes, "The EPA maintains
strict standards for refrigerant recovery and recycling
equipment, as well for recycled refrigerants. Any equipment
used for refrigerant recovery and recycling must be UL or
ETL certified," he said.