DaimlerChrysler Corporation is testing plastics recycling technology that could help make the company's vehicles 95 percent recoverable within the next few years, significantly reducing the impact of end-of-life vehicles on the environment.

If validated in a five-month pilot project launched this month, the new recycling technology could reduce by one-third the amount of automobile waste going into landfills, provide a source for high quality recycled plastics that can be used to produce new automotive parts, and result in significant cost savings in the production of new vehicles.

The project represents the second phase of DaimlerChrysler's CARE (Concepts for Advanced Recycling and Environmental) Car Program which has the dual goals of increasing the recyclability and recovery of automobiles and the use of recycled materials in new vehicles.

"This project is not only good for the environment, it is good business for DaimlerChrysler," said Bernard I. Robertson, Senior Vice President - Engineering Technologies and General Manager - Truck Operations. "By recycling the plastics from old cars and trucks, which today are simply dumped in landfills, we believe we can reduce the cost of producing new vehicles by millions of dollars a year."

If successful, the test could also open the door to a profitable new market for automobile recyclers in recycled plastics, polyurethane foams and copper. The three firms working with DaimlerChrysler are: Recovery Plastics International of Salt Lake City, Utah, which developed the automated, skin flotation process being used to separate plastics from other automotive shredder residue; and automobile recycling companies, New York-based Hugo Neu Corporation and David J. Joseph Company which has operations in the United States and Europe. The project is due to be completed in early 2001.

About 95 percent of all automobiles are recycled; however, recycling is generally limited to the 75 percent by weight of the vehicle that is metallic. The remaining 25 percent, including a significant amount of plastics, has been very difficult to recycle cost-effectively. As a result, most of that remaining material, known as automotive shredder residue, is disposed of in landfills. The recycling equation is further complicated by the fact that many automakers are using increased amounts of plastics as a way to reduce weight and improve fuel economy.

With increased plastics recycling made possible by the process under development at DaimlerChrysler, up to 95 percent of vehicles by weight could be recycled and recovered. And DaimlerChrysler would have a cost-effective source for recycled plastics that can be used to increase the number of components made from recycled plastics in new vehicles.

In April 1999, DaimlerChrysler unveiled two Dodge Stratus sedans developed jointly with 26 supplier companies that demonstrated the potential for increasing recycled materials in new vehicles. More than 500 parts were modified to increase the content of recycled material, including tires, seats, instrument panels, trim, floor mats, sun visors, fuel tanks, air bag systems, seat belts, door handles, carpeting, fascias, tail lamps, body trim, mirrors and underhood plastic applications.

As a result of the project, vehicle weight was reduced by seven pounds and seven types of plastics were eliminated, thus reducing the complexity of separating plastic components for recycling. Up to 40 percent of the plastic materials used in the vehicles were from recycled materials. At the same time, the vehicles met all requirements for comfort, performance, quality, emissions and safety.

The two Stratus CARE Cars have undergone extensive road testing to confirm the durability of the redesigned parts. One of the vehicles was tested for 200,000 miles, the other for 100,000 miles. "The vehicles passed with flying colors. There were no failures in any of the redesigned CARE Car components," said Gerald Winslow, CARE Car Program Manager.

Planning is underway to incorporate ideas from the CARE Cars into future production vehicles. "To do that, we will need a reliable source of recycled materials that meet our requirements for quality and purity. This phase two pilot project can help us get there," said Susan Yester, Senior Manager - Vehicle Recycling Programs.