Innovating recycling of end-of-life cars

There are currently a billion cars in use worldwide, and car design trends point at increasing variety in material utilisation. Cars today contain several types of steel and aluminium, an assortment of textiles and padding materials, and an increasing amount of polymers and scarce metals. Since recycling may have environmental, economic, and in the case of scarce metals, resource security benefits, the scale of car usage strongly motivates efficient and effective recycling of discarded cars, also referred to as end-of-life vehicles (ELVs). However, current ELV recycling systems are typically aimed at isolating hazardous content, selling spare parts, recovering and recycling some regulated parts and recycling metals existing in sizable quantities. Small material constituents, e.g. scarce metals, and materials of currently low market value, e.g. plastics, risk being lost, used as construction materials, incinerated or landfilled. Thus, system capabilities currently exist for recycling some materials at high recycling rates, while such capabilities are lacking or are non-existent for other materials. Consequently, there is need for developing recycling systems that are more in tune to the material complexity of present and future ELVs. The aim of this thesis is to increase the knowledge base related to the state of ELV recycling and to means of improvement. Particular attention is given to what extent ELV recycling is a source of scarce metals, to what extent these metals are recycled so that their metal properties are utilised (i.e. are functionally recycled), and what insights can be obtained from examining the historic development of ELV iron recycling, which is well-established today. The thesis is concerned with the following questions: (1) What is the magnitude of scarce metals in discarded cars? (2) What are the fates of these metals in current ELV recycling? (3) Which fates constitute functional recycling and which risk leading to irreversible losses? (4) Which were the key system-building processes that led to current capabilities for ELV iron recycling? Using material flow analysis, it is indicated that only 8 out of 25 studied ELV scarce metals have potential to be functionally recycled. Consequently, it is stressed that metal specific strategies are needed. Additionally, using the technological innovation systems framework, it is indicated that current capabilities for ELV iron recycling resulted from evolution of the ELV recycling system with the system demand side, supply side and policy. Consequently, it is argued that strengthening capabilities for recycling ELV materials such as scarce metals and plastics, may depend on initiatives that promote similar evolution. Furthermore, given that material configurations of ELVs may change continuously over time, uncertain recycling market conditions may be the normal case rather than an exception. Thus, long-term policy is argued for that promotes the orchestration of continuous and adapting evolution.


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  • Accession Number: 01631358
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute (VTI)
  • Files: ITRD, VTI
  • Created Date: Mar 30 2017 12:20PM