Jaguar, BASF recycle plastic in I-Pace part prototype

Materials World magazine
,
29 Aug 2019

Recycled materials from BASF’s ChemCycling project might lead to recycled plastic components replacing raw materials in cars. 

An overmoulding of recycled thermoplastics processed through pyrolysis is being tested for performance by Jaguar Land Rover and chemical company BASF. This could signal the start of car parts being made from reclaimed matter instead of using virgin materials.

BASF ChemCycling project upcycles domestic plastic waste destined for landfill or incineration, into a new, high-quality material. Waste plastic is converted to pyrolysis oil via a complex thermochemical process. The oil is then fed into BASF’s production chain in place of raw fossil fuel resources. The material can be tempered and coloured, making it ideal for highly visible products such as dashboards and exterior surfaces.

The car maker is partnering with BASF on a project to explore whether such materials can be used for vehicle parts. During this pilot, a prototype front-end carrier overmoulding for a Jaguar I-PACE has been made from the recycled waste and is undergoing testing to ensure it matches the safety requirements of the original part. Depending on the outcome of the trials, the material may be adopted for future products.

Making the material

BASF started the ChemCycling project in 2018. The recycled material for the pilot projects came from waste collected by recycling company Remondis, in Germany. The waste is fed into a third party pyrolysis plant, where temperatures of up to 700°C are used to break down the polymer chains into molecules, for the raw material. The pyrolysis reaction occurs under the influence of high temperatures and in the absence of oxygen.

At BASF, the team puts this pyrolysis oil into a steamcracker, which cracks it at temperatures of around 850°C. The primary outputs of this process are ethylene and propylene, valuable components which are used to make numerous chemical products.

BASF said mechanical recycling is only suitable for thermoplastics such as polyethylene, polyamide or polystyrene. Clean single-stream waste is required so the recycled plastic can be processed again.

‘Chemical recycling is less appropriate for waste streams that do not contain enough hydrocarbons,’ a BASF spokesperson told Materials World. ‘Moreover, inorganic materials, such as metals or glass fibres, would have to be removed from the plastic waste, as would halogens and, in many cases, PET. The removal could happen either before the pyrolysis step or by purification of the raw pyrolysis oil.

‘Chemical recycling can also be used for mixed and contaminated plastics. As such, chemical recycling should not be seen as competition but as complementation for mechanical recycling. The option that provides better results in an eco-efficiency assessment should be chosen.’

Scalability

BASF intends to develop chemical recycling as a new business area. But to move from the pilot phase to market roll-out, various issues will need to be resolved. ‘The existing technologies for transforming waste plastics into recycled raw materials must be advanced and adapted for use at industrial scale, in order to ensure the consistently high quality of the pyrolysis oil,’ BASF said. Jaguar and BASF are still testing the material.