By the beginning of 2015, auto shredding facilities have a new, more stringent requirement on their hands. It is the European Union’s End of Life Vehicles (ELV) directive, which requires that as of 1 January 2015, the recycling and recovery rate for end-of-life vehicles be at a level of 95%. And of that 95%, 85% must come from recycling or reuse, while the remaining 10% may be achieved through energy recovery.
Discussions with recyclers and sources within the industry indicate that this new 95% goal could be a tall order for some recycling operations.
One industry supplier who at once holds this view while at the same time is also helping numerous companies to achieve this new level is Heiner Guschall, CEO of systems integrator and equipment company SICON, based in Germany.
Reaching this 95% level requires that processors take a closer look at auto shredder residue (ASR) from their shredding plants, the diversified stream comprising foam, fibres, plastics, glass and some metals not recovered in earlier processes.
SICON is one of the companies that has been at the forefront of the effort to push the bar on recycling and recovering valuable streams from auto shredder residue, having partnered with automaker Volkswagen and developing the patented VW-SICON process for shredder residue that has since been adopted by numerous plants around the world.
Guschall says the company is currently building what he believes may be one of the most advanced, and possibly one of the largest, plants dedicated to recycling plastics from ASR, with a capacity of 12 tonnes per hour.
In the following Q&A, Guschall answers a few questions about the 95% ELV challenge and what he believes it could take for more companies to achieve it.
Recycling Today: What is your opinion of the status of Europe’s auto shredding facilities in terms of reaching the 95% recycling, reuse and recovery rate?
Heiner Guschall: The achievement of 95% from next year on will be a challenge for a lot of companies, because it’s not only 95% recovery. Of this, only 10% is allowed for energy recovery, so the supply of material as an alternate fuel for the cement industry does not count as recycling, and this will cause quite a few companies some headaches because they will not achieve the 95% quotas.
RT: What do you think it will take for companies to reach the 95% level, if they’re not already?
HG: The processing of shredder residue has to be much more than just metal recovery and some screening of the fines fraction. You have to do something to add value to and recycle the nonmetallic fractions, and this is exactly where we have been working in close cooperation with Volkswagen for the last 15 years. What we have designed for our customers is a system that does not generate only one final product but which can be easily adjusted to produce a range of products and different qualities, so we generate products which find markets in the different European countries.
RT: How difficult is it to produce usable marketable products from shredder residue?
HG: Shredder residue needs to be processed in a way that you produce at the final end nonferrous metals as well as plastics and the other organics—we call them shredder fibres—in a way that you can recycle it, and this is not only done by screening or sifting. The recycling needs to create a defined final product which meets certain physical features (size, humidity, bulk weight) and also chemical features (levels of chlorine and heavy metals). These chemical features might have an influence on the recyclability of these plastics or products.
A product means a specific sequence of cleaning steps in order to achieve these final values which are required, for example by blast furnaces and cement plants. The philosophy of the VW-SICON system is that we always first look at the requirements of the final customer. For example, a steelmaker might be injecting around 200,000 tonnes of plastic as an alternative reducing agent, an application for processed shredder residue which is regarded as recycling. But the steelmakers have certain requirements regarding chlorine, copper, zinc, heavy metals and calorific value. So the process upstream is then adjusted in a way that we achieve on a safe level these final requirements.
You cannot recover 100% of shredder residue, and you cannot recycle 100% of the plastics, just a portion of them. Therefore the companies need to have, from next year on, a balanced mix between recycling and energy recovery to achieve the legal quotas.
RT: Can you talk about the various final customers that could be interested in refined shredder residue fractions?
HG: The final customers are cement plants, blast furnaces, compounding plants and sewage sludge treatment plants which use our fibres as a dewatering agent. They all have specific requirements, so the process for the treatment of shredder residue needs to be adapted or adjusted to the needs of these final customers. There are very few plants that accept shredder residue without specific treatment. Shredder residues without specific treatment are inhomogenous, they have a changing level of humidity, a changing level of heavy metals and a changing level of chlorine. Therefore typically shredder residue is not a very wanted product for final customers. But once a qualified processing has been passed, then you have in the end a product with these specific characteristics, and then suddenly you find markets and you have customers for this.
RT: If you can create this final product and it is suitable for one of those final customers then it will be suitable for more?
HG: Exactly, and this is what we experience. But it’s important that you have a certain quality on a constant basis, because no final customer is interested in accepting this quality today and a different quality tomorrow. You need good quality control and your process needs to be proven and consistent. Then you get access to a variety of different customers.
RT: What are the different proportions of plastics, fibres, sand and metals that comprise shredder residue?
HG: This depends on the steps which are already installed at a shredding plant, but in general you can say it’s about 5% to 6% nonferrous metals still inside the shredder residue, 30% which is mixed plastics, another 30% which is the fibre fraction, about 25% fines and magnetic dirt and between 10% and 15% is humidity [moisture].
RT: Why does the VW-SICON process begin with a size reduction step?
HG: We homogenize the size for a couple of reasons. There are approaches on the market where products are produced just by screening. But these screenings produce different size fractions, and these size fractions all need additional refining. Our size reduction step does not only have the function of size reduction, but more importantly, the function of liberation. It allows for a monostream refining step which makes the complete shredder residue processing easier, more controllable and less costly.
The liberation step has a particular focus on liberating the fibrous material from potential metals which tend to become tangled with the fibrous material. Shredder residue contains a lot of harness wire in the foam and fluffy material, and the liberation is designed to separate this wire from the fluff. This issue of harness wire which is trapped inside what is basically nonmetallic material, is an increasing challenge for shredder operators because of the rising share of electronics in the cars.
RT: What are the latter steps in the process?
HG: The entire process is a combination of size reduction/liberation via hammermill, then screening, sifting to produce lights and heavies, and then refining of the heavies and refining of the lights. These are all part of the patented VW-SICON process.
There is a very precise split between the metal-rich heavies which also contains the plastics and wood, and the basically metal-free fibre fluff, from the carpets, interior fabrics and foam.
We concentrate the metals and plastics in the heavy fraction, which then goes through a series of sensor sorters to remove specific metal products before being granulated and then sent through a density separation step. At the end, operators are left with a few grades of aluminium, a few grades of copper and stainless steel. There is also a plastics stream, some of which can be recycled and some recovered for energy value. In addition to plastic to plastic applications, some of the plastics may be used as an alternative reducing agent, as depolymerisation feedstock, gasification feedstock or for plastic extrusion applications.
RT: What type of work has SICON done with regard to gasification?
HG: There are numerous processes for depolymerization and gasification on the market, and those which are successfully working on a large scale may be unsuitable for the ASR fraction. However SICON is working with depolymerization companies and has run very successful tests. We are also working on gasification with our ReEnvision process.