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Recycled plastics grades starting to have impact

Plastics recycling
Recent developments in the use of recycled plastics should see much greater demand in the future for recycled grades from the automotive sector.
We have all seen the ever growing use of plastics in vehicles which is balanced by an ever reducing amount of metal. Plastics have never offered the values to justify their removal, sorting and baling but times are changing.

A Lincolnshire based plastics recycler, Luxus Limited has been pioneering the use of recycled material for new automotive parts. After all, that’s what closing the loop is all about. The plastics industry has had many setbacks, particularly with quality and material finish where recycled plastic is concerned, but a recent £600,000 EU grant should allow Luxus to commercialise its Hycolene range of lightweight polypropylene (PP) compounds.

These compounds use up to 60 per cent recycled content, making new vehicles greener, and lighter, enabling the European automotive industry to increase its use of recycled content polymers to satisfy both end-of-life legislation and tougher emissions targets.

Luxus will be collaborating on this project with Jaguar Land Rover, twin screw manufacturer Coperion to help with complex processing and tier one moulding supplier IAC for materials trials.

Jaguar Land Rover will be providing end-user guidance on the project to ensure the technical requirements are met, allowing exploitation of this technology in future applications across the industry.

Luxus managing director Peter Atterby said: “We’re pleased that the commercial potential of our Hycolene range has been recognised by the EU. This investment will enable us to effectively make a fundamental step change in our technology as we aim to replace our filled compounds with next generation reinforcing additives.”

Luxus is preparing a patent application for the new advanced polymer technology process. Its capacity, however, to produce these compounds will be limited by access to local sources of recyclate PP. So in the future it intends to license its intellectual property of formulations and knowledge to other selected compounders in the EU.

The company also has a long standing relationship with Nissan and when it came to the Leaf’s visual interior components, Nissan’s materials team were seeking a sustainable materials option able to offer high impact performance, rigidity and excellent scratch resistance - but in new lighter shades for the very first time.

The materials had to produce the quality of visual performance and the colour consistency that Nissan customers had come to expect. At this point Luxus already had a proven track record for the delivery of dark colour match recycled compounds to Nissan moulders. The new challenge was to push the boundaries further by engineering light colours for highly visual interior applications.

The material validation process required for this project was a joint collaboration between Luxus, the Nissan European Technology Centre and its head office in Japan. The decision was also taken by Nissan to cascade the light colour specifications (which included a pale grey, beige and the standard black) onto future models.

A key issue for the team at Luxus was continuity of recycled feedstock supply. Despite already having an established ‘A’ surface grade for the Nissan black trim colour PG05 (Luxus Type 16303) as a ballpark, keeping this specification across a range of lighter colours remains an on-going challenge as feedstock quality varies even from approved suppliers.

Luxus Technical Manager, Terry Burton explains: “The material we are looking for is the best of what’s available. We have companies that are approved through our internal processes as our agreed PP automotive interior grade suppliers, but even for those as soon as the material comes into our plant we start sorting - we look at colour, check for odour and FTIR test for contamination.”

So only the highest quality material is therefore used to engineer the Luxus interior A-surface visual grades. But even with tight control of recycled material, there is still variance in feedstock which has to be identified and controlled in order to deliver a high quality recycled polymer compound in each required colour variant. Luxus knowledge gained through many years spent manufacturing dark colour compounds was essential in meeting the Nissan colour challenge.

As a result, the final blend was made with 30% recycled plastic with talc filler to deliver a carbon positive solution in light grey, beige and black without any compromise in performance.

The new recycled PP colour compounds are now produced for use on Nissan’s Leaf and other vehicles. This enables Nissan to move a step closer to ‘closing the loop’ and reducing the carbon footprint of its vehicles. In so doing together with Luxus it has helped to push the boundaries in sustainable polymer engineering.

Over the coming months we shall explore in detail the potential for used automotive plastics for the auto recycler as we believe there will be potential for this sector to capitalise on this currently ignored area. I hope you can appreciate that what is happening today in recycled automotive plastic is a million miles away from the recycled materials for the Bluebird’s wheel arch liners which Luxus was involved with 20 years ago. The future is starting to look bright for plastic!

February 2015

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