January 15, 2021



IMAGE: Pyrolysis oil from mixed wastes is to close the loop for plastics from automotive engineering.
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Credit: (Photo: Markus Breig, KIT)

A large number of components in automobiles are made from plastics. They have to meet high safety, heat resistance, and quality requirements. That is why so far only petroleum-based materials have been suitable for manufacturing plastic components in cars that are subjected to extremely high wear. In most cases, such materials cannot be recycled. Whereas plastics of the same type can often be recycled mechanically, recycling of mixed plastic waste poses a major challenge. The THINK TANK Industrial Resource Strategies of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Audi are therefore launching a pilot project for chemical recycling in order to feed such mixed plastic fractions back into a resource-conserving circular system.

“Recycling automotive plastics has not yet been possible for many components. That is why we are doing pioneering work here together with Audi,” says Professor Dieter Stapf, Head of KIT’s Institute for Technical Chemistry, who also is involved in the THINK TANK. “If we want to close these loops, we need to develop suitable methods.” So far, chemical recycling has been the only method that can be used to convert such mixed plastic wastes into products, whose quality matches that of new products. As a result, a wider range of plastics can be recovered, Stapf says. “Such closed material loops save valuable resources, because less primary material is required. This, in turn, saves energy and costs – and is beneficial to the environment,” says Dr. Rebekka Volk from KIT’s Institute for Industrial Production.

The pilot project “Chemical Recycling of Plastics in Automotive Engineering” is conducted by the THINK TANK Industrial Resource Strategies that has been established at KT by the Baden-Württemberg State Government together with industry and the support of academia. “Responsible use of resources is the joint obligation of industry, science, and politics. The THINK TANK pools all competencies to master this big challenge and to serve society and the environment,” says Professor Thomas Hirth, KIT Vice-President for Innovation and International Affairs and Spokesperson of the THINK TANK.

“Chemical recycling can be a major component of comprehensive plastics recycling. This makes it an interesting proposition for the automotive industry. The THINK TANK and Audi are jointly addressing a central issue of making automobiles more sustainable and environmentally friendly in future irrespective of their type of powertrain. The THINK TANK is focused on a holistic view of raw material loops,” says Dr. Christian Kühne, Managing Director of the THINK TANK.

Audi is among the first automotive manufacturers testing this recycling method in a pilot project with plastics from automotive engineering. “We want to establish smart circular systems in our supply chains and make efficient use of resources,” says Marco Philippi, Senior Director Procurement Strategy of Audi. “Chemical recycling has a great potential for this: If plastic components can be produced from pyrolysis oil instead of petroleum, it would be possible to significantly increase the proportion of


By Gilles Guillaume

a close up of a street sign with trees in the background: FILE PHOTO: The Flins plant of French carmaker Renault

© Reuters/Benoit Tessier
FILE PHOTO: The Flins plant of French carmaker Renault

PARIS (Reuters) – Renault will stop assembling new cars at its Flins factory outside Paris and turn the site into a research, recycling and repair centre by 2024 in a move set to save full-time jobs at the plant, the company said on Wednesday.

The loss-making carmaker said it aimed to employ 3,000 people at the revamped site by 2030, and billed the makeover as a way of saving a site that might otherwise be threatened as the group narrows its focus on profitable car models and cuts costs.

a close up of a sign: FILE PHOTO: The logo of Renault carmaker is pictured at a dealership in Les Sorinieres

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Renault carmaker is pictured at a dealership in Les Sorinieres

“The status quo was no longer possible, we had to be lucid about this,” Renault Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard told an online news conference after meeting with unions at Flins, flanked by new Chief Executive Luca De Meo.


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Renault, which had been struggling with waning profitability and sales before the coronavirus pandemic hit, has this year announced 4,600 job cuts in France as part of a 2 billion euro ($2.4 billion) cost savings plan.

Unions said their proposals to keep on some car assembly activities in the longer run had been turned down.

The company will continue to make its electric Zoe models at Flins until 2024, and will roll out its new activities in the meantime. These include refitting cars, such as those used for long-term leases, creating a group to work on electric battery innovations and recycling car parts.

Staff would be retrained, De Meo said, without giving details of the budget.

The 3,000 jobs will include staff from the nearby Choisy-le-Roi plant, which has a workforce of 260 but is earmarked for closure, while Flins currently employs 2,400 permanent workers.

But it also regularly works with many temporary staff, some 1,400, and it is unclear what would happen to these workers. De Meo said Flins could be opened up to other companies, which could create more jobs for the plant.

Renault said the plant would be equipped to turn out 130,000 refitted cars a year by 2030.

(Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White; Editing by David Goodman and Mark Potter)

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A joint project between automaker Audi and the industrial resource strategies think tank at Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT) is aimed at finding an alternative to energy recovery as an end-of-life solution for automotive plastic components that are not suitable for mechanical recycling.

That work will focus on the many auto parts that are composed of more than one type of plastic, posing challenges for efficient mechanical recycling.

“We want to establish smart circular systems in our supply chains and make efficient use of resources,” said Marco Philippi, senior director of procurement strategy for Audi, part of Volskwagen AG

The new pilot project seeks to create smart circular systems for plastics, by establishing chemical recycling as a complementary technology to mechanical recycling, relegating incineration to the past.

The technology is being evaluated at KIT by teams led by Dieter Stapf at the Institute for Technical Chemistry and Rebekka Volk at the Institute for Industrial Production. Audi supplies the end-of-life plastic components recovered from Audi models returning from the German dealership network, which are then chemically processed into pyrolysis oil, to serve as feedstock for the production of new raw materials.

The technology enables a wider range of plastics to be recovered and conserves resources because fewer primary materials are required.

Audi is one of the first automobile manufacturers to test this recycling method in a pilot project with plastics from automobile production.

“Recycling automotive plastics has not been possible for many components so far. That is why we are doing pioneering work here together with Audi,” Stapf said, “If we want to close these loops, we need to develop suitable methods for this.”

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