Recycling Lives introduces ‘groundbreaking’ approach to car waste

Recycling Lives has announced a novel approach to preventing landfill waste via energy-from-waste solutions. The waste management company will use thermal treatment technology to generate power and hydrogen. CEO Gerry Marshall says Recycling Lives is ‘thrilled to have played a crucial part in turning a problem into a positive solution’.

Car recycling
According to the company, two million cars reach the end of their lifespan in the UK annually with 5 per cent of their parts ending up in the landfill due to their complex disposition. Around 75 per cent of the car is recyclable, 25 per cent – known as automotive shredder residue (ASR) – is left. 20 per cent is recovered by Recycling Lives and the remaining 5 per cent – which usually ends up in landfill – is now being addressed.

The 25 per cent ASR tends to be composed of a range of materials including textiles, plastics and foam, which predominantly come from car upholstery and fascia (the components of the dashboard).

Recycling Lives told Resource that the 20 per cent which is recoverable includes rubber, heavy plastics and sometimes wires or circuit boards. These pure categories are separated for further reprocessing or reuse. The final 5 per cent of ASR – which this new approach is aimed at – tends to be complex makeups of light plastic, foam and textiles which cannot be broken down or extracted for reuse and therefore are traditionally taken to landfill.

The new approach uses pyrolysis which employs advanced thermal decomposition to convert ASR waste for byproduct generation – char and syngas. Char produced by the process can be used to create ‘green hydrogen gas’, while residual char may be applied as a soil modifier. Syngas will be used to generate electric power.

The waste management company told Resource that they believe the technology to be groundbreaking: “It is the first solution of its kind and the only solution so far to create green energy from what would be the landfill ASR.”

“ASR is such a difficult waste to break down, and a portion of this has had to be treated as landfill across the industry. The fact that we will be creating green hydrogen and green electricity as a result of the process is a breakthrough.”

The Preston-based company hopes to have its first operational plant in action by the end of 2023 and to reduce the amount of landfill waste it produces to zero within four years. Marshall added: “We’ll be generating power across our other main plants during 2024 and 2025, and thereafter, working on providing power back to the grid over the following 12-18 months”.

Recycling Lives owns both the site in Preston and the infrastructure to support the thermal treatment technology. A spokesperson Resource that the company is ‘in the process of scaling up’.

Marshall continued: “The waste sector contributes 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions globally, and COP27 this month will remind the world that failure to safely manage waste affects health, the environment, and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.

“As the largest end-of-life car processor in the UK, we responsibly recycle upwards of 150,000 cars a year, and automotive shredder residue has traditionally been a major issue, accounting for up to a quarter of every vehicle’s material.

“Preventing this valuable material from taking up landfill space and contributing to a cleaner, safer environment that benefits our people and our planet has been a key driver for this innovation.”