Closed material cycle

KIT and Audi Work on Recycling Automotive Plastics

23. November 2020, 13:14 Uhr   |  Irina Hübner

KIT and Audi Work on Recycling Automotive Plastics
© Markus Breig, KIT

With pyrolysis oil from mixed waste, the partners want to make the recycling of technical plastics in automotive engineering possible.

Chemical recycling could significantly increase the proportion of sustainably produced parts in cars. Therefore, Audi wants to prove the technical feasibility of chemical recycling with the KIT think tank as a partner.

Numerous components in cars are made of plastics. They have to meet high standards of safety, heat resistance and quality. For this reason, plastic components in cars that are subject to particularly intensive stress have so far only been producible from petroleum-based materials. These cannot usually be recycled. While single-variety plastics can often be recycled mechanically, the recycling of mixed plastic waste is a major challenge.

The think tank Industrial Resource Strategies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is therefore launching the pilot project »Chemical Recycling of Plastics from Automotive Engineering« together with Audi in order to lead such mixed plastic fractions back into a resource-saving cycle.

So far, chemical recycling is the only method that makes it possible to convert mixed plastic waste back into products of virgin material quality. Recycling allows a wider range of plastics to be recovered.

»The responsible use of raw materials is the joint responsibility of industry, science and politics. In the think tank, we bundle all competencies in order to meet this great challenge in the service of society and environment,« says Professor Thomas Hirth, KIT Vice President for Innovation and International Affairs and speaker of the think tank. »Chemical recycling can be a very important building block for comprehensive plastics recycling. This is what makes it so interesting for the automotive industry. The think tank and Audi are jointly tackling a central issue of making cars more sustainable and environmentally friendly in the future, regardless of the drive system. A holistic view of raw material cycles is the focus of the think tank,« says the think tank's managing director, Dr. Christian Kühne.

Audi is one of the first car manufacturers to test this recycling method in a pilot project using plastics from automobile production. »We want to establish intelligent cycles in our supply chains and use resources efficiently,« says Marco Philippi, Head of Procurement Strategy at Audi. »Chemical recycling holds great potential for this: If plastic components can be produced from pyrolysis oil instead of petroleum without any loss of quality, it would be possible to significantly increase the proportion of sustainably produced parts in cars. In the long term, the process could also play a role in end-of-life vehicle recycling«.

Pyrolysis processes for sustainable products

The pilot project »Chemical recycling of plastics from automotive engineering« aims to create intelligent cycles for plastics and to establish this method as a supplement to mechanical recycling and instead of energy recovery. With the KIT think tank as a partner, Audi initially intends to test the technical feasibility of chemical recycling and to evaluate the process with regard to economic efficiency and environmental impact.

The company will provide plastic components no longer required for this purpose, such as fuel tanks, wheel covers, or radiator grilles from Audi models that return from the German dealer network, for example. These plastic components are processed into pyrolysis oil through chemical recycling. In the medium term, components made of pyrolysis oil can be reused in automobiles. If the technical feasibility can be demonstrated, Audi intends to industrialize the process and then apply it successively to more and more parts.

The Think Tank Industrial Resource Strategies

The think tank Industrial Resource Strategies is a joint initiative of politics and industry with the support of science. It advises politics and industry on a scientific basis on the central technological and strategic issues of resource efficiency, resource use and resource policy. The think tank was established by the Baden-Württemberg state government together with industry and with the support of science at KIT.

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KIT - Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Audi AG