Audi Research for Recycling Automotive Plastics
Plastic RecyclingAudi

Audi Research for Recycling Automotive Plastics

As part of the THINKTANK Industrial Resource Strategies, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have been working with Audi

As part of the THINKTANK Industrial Resource Strategies, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have been working with Audi for a good six months on the pilot project Chemical Recycling of plastics from automotive manufacturing. Now that the project has been completed, it is clear that the Chemical Recycling of mixed plastic waste is both technically feasible and environmentally and financially promising. The plastic waste from automotive manufacturing can be processed into pyrolysis oil and could replace petroleum as a raw material for the production of high-quality plastic components in Audi models. The material cycles closed in this way save valuable resources, energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As such, Chemical Recycling represents a viable alternative to energy recovery and complements mechanical processing. In this way, Audi could use fossil resources for longer and thus scale back the procurement of additional fossil resources accordingly. Together with partners from the chemical industry and KIT, Audi now plans to take the next step and research the industrialization of this cycle.

Fuel tanks, airbag covers, or radiator grilles, many components in cars are made of plastics. They need to meet stringent safety, heat resistance, and quality requirements. This is why plastic automotive components that are subject to particularly high levels of stress can, to date, only be manufactured from materials of virgin material quality, which mechanically recycled plastics usually do not achieve. Additionally, mixed plastic waste is often not available for mechanical recycling. For this reason, the THINKTANK Industrial Resource Strategies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) launched a pilot project for Chemical Recycling together with Audi at the end of 2020. Within the scope of the project, tests were carried out to determine the extent to which mixed automotive plastic fractions can be fed back into a resource-friendly cycle via Chemical Recycling.

Scientists investigated the technical feasibility of the process as well as its cost-effectiveness and its impact on the environment. The results show that Chemical Recycling can be used to process the mixed plastic waste from automotive manufacturing into pyrolysis oil, which can replace petroleum as a chemical raw material. This means materials made from it exhibit the same high quality as virgin materials. This means that plastics made from pyrolysis oil can be reused in automotive manufacturing to produce plastic components that are subject to high levels of stress.

Audi is one of the first automakers to test this recycling method in a pilot project with automotive plastic waste. Audi intends to intensify its research together with its partner KIT.

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