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Leibniz University Hannover and Leuphana University receive 1.3 million euros for research on recycling auto parts

Leibniz University Hannover and Leuphana University receive 1.3 million euros for research on recycling auto parts

Press release from
© Florian Bittner/IKK
Extrusion facility

The Volkswagen Foundation funds project on different methods for putting plastics back into the recyclable materials cycle.

Handles, car trunk covers and centre consoles – many car parts are made of plastic. In comparison to metal, this has many advantages: among other things, plastic is significantly lighter, which has a positive impact on vehicles’ fuel and energy consumption. However, the disposal of plastic or its reintegration into the recyclable materials cycle is much more difficult, not least because the various auto parts are made of plastic components with different compositions.

Under the leadership of Prof. Dr.-Ing. Hans-Josef Endres, a new research collaboration at the IKK – Institute of Plastics and Circular Economy at Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) aims to compare the common recycling methods. The Volkswagen Foundation is supporting the project, titled REMOTIVE – Circularity with recycled and biogenic resources, for four years with a total of 1.3 million euros. The project partners are researchers from the Institute of Sustainable Chemistry (INSC) at Leuphana University Lüneburg, under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Klaus Kümmerer.

The research project is a timely one given the European Union’s plans for a regulation that will govern the recycling of end-of-life vehicles in a new way. Under the regulation, at least 25 per cent of all plastic components in new cars will be required to consist of recycled materials as of 2030. And 25 per cent of the recycled materials will, in turn, need to originate from end-of-life vehicles. This means that in future more than 6 per cent of all plastic components in a vehicle will be made of parts from end-of-life vehicles.

There are three overarching processes for recycling plastic: chemical, solvent-based and mechanical. All three recycling methods share in common that the plastic needs to be sorted by type beforehand in order to produce high-quality recycled material. This is relatively complicated but necessary, because many components – for example, the centre console – consist of not only different types of plastic but also several different plastic components, as well as other materials such as metal, fibre-reinforced composites or glue. Because the plastics in vehicles are mostly black, separating them using the usual spectroscopic procedures is not an option because the dyes used mean that the parts cannot be captured accurately. Instead, disassembly by hand is necessary, otherwise damage can occur easily during further processing – for example, through metal contamination from items such as braces, which damages the injection mould, or through poisonous gases that can form when certain plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are processed together with other synthetic materials at high temperatures.

REMOTIVE is now carrying out a comparison of the three recycling options using automotive components for the first time in order to review their efficiency, effectiveness, environmental balance and cost. At IKK, the focus is on mechanical recycling methods, which are primarily based on multi-step cleaning in a so-called recycling extruder and subsequent processing of the resulting granules for injection applications. The research team at INSC is investigating sustainable and green approaches for chemical and solvent-based processes. The aim is to study the limits, possibilities and synergies of the recycling approaches and to derive findings for functional product design from this work in order to enable optimised and sustainable recycling in future.

Additional information about the IKK is available at www.ikk.uni-hannover.de/en/.

The Volkswagen Foundation is funding REMOTIVE as part of its Societal Transformations profile area. The focus of this profile area is research that expands and critically reflects on the body of knowledge on transformation processes with different focal points.


Note to editors:

For further information, please contact Prof. Dr.-Ing. Hans-Josef Endres, head of the Institute of Plastics and Circular Economy at Leibniz University Hannover (tel. +49 511 762 13302, email: endres@ikk.uni-hannover.de).