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Cars of the future: a solid business case for recyclers?

The automotive industry has long provided a valuable and steady waste stream for precious metals recyclers. The traditional autocatalyst is slowly on the way out as the arrival of the electric car is ‘unstoppable’, so observes Caroline Guest, research manager at HSSMI.Electric motors may represent a small niche for recyclers today, but let’s not underestimate this waste flow. Essentially, the whole architecture of cars is changing,’ she said at yesterday’s CARS & Metal Recycling expo in Stoneleigh, UK.

By 2025, there may be 1 million e-cars ready for scrapping or remanufacturing in the UK alone. ‘Remanufacturing costs for fuel cells are about 30-60% of manufacturing costs. We stand to save millions if we do it right,’ Guest declared at the Stoneleigh trade show. She pointed out that big companies like BMW have turned to remanufactured car batteries, transformed into energy storage systems, to power their hi-tech facilities.

A ‘solid’ market

According to Russ Bowerman, ceo of precious metals recycler Elemental Resource Management, the cars of the future will remain a ‘solid market’ for the global recycling community. Operating from its recently expanded site in Leeds, the firm is able to process 200 000 tons of precious metal annually. ‘We import autocatalysts, too. From Ghana and New Zealand, for example. Besides, we also treat e-scrap,’ Bowerman remarked. ‘We have our hands full.’ In his view, it is unlikely that e-cars will start dominating the automotive sector in the next fifteen to twenty years.

Plug-in, maybe?

On average, 4800 electric vehicles were registered by UK consumers every month so far. In fact, the plug-in car market made up2.2% of all new cars sold in the UK during the first half of this year. Upwards of 47 000 plug-in cars were registered in the UK last year. This represents a significant new record considering that approximately 37 000 such vehicles were sold in 2016.

The global car industry will continue to see a paradigm shift in terms of materials, partly because of the lightweight vehicle trend. ‘This shift requires stakeholders to reimagine the design process as well as full support from our government to enforce sustainable legislation’, Guest proposed.

Yes to scrapping

The material composition car recyclers will surely face be different in the coming years. But that’s not all; the number of people sending their vehicle to the scrap yard is quickly growing. ‘Consumers have certainly welcomed recycling a logical option. We help scrap more cars each year than there are people living in the UK,’ Michelle Selby of Scrap Car Network told Recycling International. ‘We have requests come in from across the country; from London and the Isle of Wight all the way up to the Scottish border. And the number of cars we handle is still increasing.’

Scrap Car Network currently works with over 100 recyclers – major companies and local business alike – to make car recycling as easy as possible. ‘We collect the vehicles ourselves. People don’t have to drive anywhere. And the amount they receive is stated before the scrapping process,’ Selby adds. ‘From our experience, boosting transparency and convenience notably raises recycling results.’

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