UM launches $ 2 million effort to manufacture recyclable lightweight automotive sheet metal
A new $ 2 million project at the University of Michigan aims to develop simpler, more cost-effective ways to make recyclable lightweight automotive sheet metal. “The Clean Sheet Project” aims to develop new design tools and establish best practices for material producers and automotive manufacturers with an emphasis on recycling from start to finish of production.
We need to reduce the environmental impacts of vehicle production in the future, and one way to do this is to boost the production of these lightweight sheets from recycled materials. Not only will this reduce emissions from the automotive production process, but it will also help limit the destructive extraction of raw materials.
We already recycle a lot of the materials that go into these new vehicles, but we’re not doing it well. You have to put steel and aluminum in electric arc or gas furnaces, then pour new metal.
—Daniel Cooper, UM assistant professor of mechanical engineering and project manager
Recycled metal products are not of high quality because today it is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain pure raw material to be melted. In the United States, there is little demand for this contaminated scrap, so the materials are often shipped to other countries where low-wage workers sort them by hand.
Recyclers use mechanical shears to attempt to separate and stack the different metals to be sent separately to the furnaces. However, vehicles contain many different metal alloys which get mixed up when broken, and aluminum car panels often have steel rivets which are difficult to remove even with magnets.
This task of separating metals is becoming more and more difficult. Electric vehicles, for example, use even more copper cables in their electronics. Recycled steel can crack during fabrication if it contains as little as 0.1% copper. Typically, recycled metal ends up being used in places where performance requirements are low, such as aluminum castings in engine blocks and steel rebar.
We see huge opportunities for increased material reuse and recycling if vehicle design includes ease of disassembly, better material separation and industry wide generalization. The Clean Sheet Project will provide this information and we are excited to join the University of Michigan and other partners to participate. This work strongly supports Ford’s commitments to reduce CO emissions2 emissions, develop a circular economy and a carbon neutral future.
—George Luckey, Head of Stamping and Alloys Development at Ford Research and Advances Engineering
Ford is one of several private financial partners involved in this effort.
Two factors suggest that it is now necessary to determine how to make more sustainable practices mainstream.
The first is the growing commitment of major automobile manufacturers in the manufacture of electric vehicles. The second factor is that over the next few years, a wave of aluminum sheet-intensive vehicles will reach end of life and head to junkyards.
In an article published this year, Cooper and his team found that four vehicles – the Ford F-150, Super Duty, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator – accounted for approximately 1,200 kt of integrated aluminum (ABS) body plates. in the 2020 US fleet.
The intensive aluminum ABS construction of these vehicles presents a unique opportunity for American recyclers. If production continues at current volumes, aluminum ABS scrap from these vehicles will increase to around 125 kt / year in 2035 and 246 kt / year in 2050. The majority of this scrap will be available for US processing with
—Zhu et al.
Zhu et al.
It requires a reinvention of how these high-value materials can be recycled or remade to produce new vehicles. Aluminum is known to be difficult to recycle without losing performance, and you can see why some people are worried about where we’re going. If we switch to electric vehicles, it probably means even greater demand for high-quality aluminum and a loss of the internal combustion engine market which currently uses a lot of the low-quality recycled metal.
Earlier efforts to make electric vehicle components more easily recyclable have had some success, but the lack of an integrated approach across the industry, from materials producers and recyclers to automakers and scrap converters, has hampered the effort.
Hopefully our methodology could provide a breakthrough at all levels.
This methodology includes integrated computer modeling of materials engineering that will determine the extent to which mixed metals can be recycled. These models can help researchers discover new materials that are more recyclable and determine how more recycled materials can be used in high-quality components like aluminum bodies. Additional modeling will assess vehicle design options, such as the materials used and where they are used.
Researchers will also analyze new technologies for removing old vehicles and separating materials. The project will provide a new suite of designs for recycling tools and technology roadmaps for the entire industry.
The Clean Sheet team is currently running a cross-sector workshop on the design, production, manufacture and recycling of automotive sheet metal to learn from industry experts on opportunities to increase recycling of high quality sheet metal. .
About half of the funding for the project comes from the US Department of Energy’s REMADE Institute, a public-private partnership that promotes the adoption of sustainable technologies for industries. Besides Ford, additional financial partners include: Novelis, Institute of Scrap Metal Recycling Industries, Aluminum Association, Light Metals Consultants and Argonne National Laboratories.
Yongxian Zhu, Laurent B. Chappuis, Robert De Kleine, Hyung Chul Kim, Timothy J. Wallington, George Luckey, Daniel R. Cooper (2021) “The next wave of aluminum scrap from vehicle recycling in the United States” , Resources, conservation and recycling, Volume 164, 105208, doi: 10.1016 / j.resconrec.2020.105208.