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Sustainable Electrical & Electronic System for the Automotive Sector ( SEES)

Final Report Summary - SEES (Sustainable Electrical & Electronic System for the Automotive Sector)

The main goal of the SEES project was the development of prototypes and dismantling / re-cycling processes for a sustainable, clean, cost- and eco-effective automotive electrical and electronic system (EES) to increase the recovery and reuse rate of vehicles where appropriate. This will facilitate the achievement of the recycling / recovery targets laid down in the Directive 2000/53/EC on end-of-life vehicles.

The approach to achieve this included:
- life-cycle perspective, covering all the life steps of the product (manufacturing, assembly, use, disassembly, shredding and materials recycling);
-investigation of the optimal collection, dismantling and shredding procedures for the automotive EES through real tests;
- development / demonstration of new metal and plastic recycling technologies and identification of product applications;
- environmental and economic assessment of all the life cycle steps using LCA and LCC methodologies;
- development of eco-design guidelines to improve future EES designs and contribute to sustainability;
- new electrical and electronic system concept and specific parts / functions prototyping and testing;
- development of methodologies and software tools to assess end-of-life scenarios and recycling options of the EES.

The SEES project has followed a life cycle approach covering the whole life cycle of automotive electrical and electronic systems (EES), including design, assembly, use, disassembly, recycling and recovery. During the course of the project the focus of the research has been opened to cover a more holistic life cycle view instead of concentrating on end-of-life issues only. This shift of focus was based on interim findings which indicated low environmental and economic relevance of and limited actual design influence on the end-of-life phase in comparison with other life cycle phases.

An integrated assessment of automotive EES supported the definition of the scope of the subsequent studies. Automotive EES devices have been classified and assessed. The classification of EES devices resulted in 14 different component groups. An assessment scheme for qualitative and semi-quantitative evaluation of legal, environmental and economic end-of-life aspects, including dismantling, recycling and future trends for automotive electrical and electronic devices has been developed and applied to identify most relevant and representative components among the car EES. Available information on state-of-the-art end-of-life processes for vehicles and the contained metal and plastic materials of the EES have been collected and integrated. The selected components and collected information were the basis for the further work packages in the SEES project.

The assembly study revealed critical parameters for cost, time and quality targets of the EES assembly process. Within the disassembly study, destructive and non-destructive disassembly tests on cars of different type and age have been performed to identify influences on the disassembly time and cost and look for improvement potentials. The studies showed that only a small portion of the dismantling time can be addressed by product design. The shredding study is based on the quantification and characterisation of the fractions obtained in the car shredding process (vehicles including the electrical and electronic systems as well as vehicles where these systems are dismantled) and the definition of the quantity of the material from the EES that goes to each shredder fraction. Shredding tests have been conducted and evaluated to analyse recycling options for the shredder output fractions and compare possible shredding and dismantling scenarios for EES. It was shown that disassembly of copper containing EES parts before the vehicle enters the shredder is not necessary to ensure the quality of the steel fraction, but it would significantly increase costs in comparison with handpicking of copper parts after the shredder.

To improve the recycling of EES components, the project has undertaken EES and plastic recycling studies. New and emerging mechanical and chemical recycling technologies for the treatment of selected EES components, e.g. wire harnesses, junction boxes and other printed circuit boards (PCB) containing devices have been identified and tested. Mechanical treatment aims at separation of valuable fractions for separate recycling. Furthermore, recycling of plastics from dismantled EES components as well as from shredding residues was studied in order to obtain recycled plastics of high quality and look for value-added applications. Using mechanical separation technologies main plastic fractions could be separated from the tested samples, including polyolefins and polyamides. Plastics recycled from production rejection materials have good properties that allow using them in the same application again.

Environmental and economic studies have been carried out to analyse the potential environmental impacts and costs of different design and end-of-life scenarios of EES. Two representative components have been analysed in life cycle assessment (LCA) and life cycle costing (LCC) studies, an engine wire harness and a smart junction box. It has been shown that the use and production phase (including material production) have a much higher impact over the whole life cycle than the end-of-life phase. Considerable environmental improvement potential could be identified for a design option of the wire harness with a reduced weight.

A prototype of SEES software was developed, implementing two methodologies developed within SEES. The first methodology is for assessing recycling potential and evaluating disassembly effort for EES products from the perspective of the designer. This supports EES de-signers in comparing different designs for EES products. The second methodology for simulation of end-of-life scenarios allows simulating process inputs / outputs and costs of combinations of recycling processes depending on the quality of the input material. This second part is to be used to support recyclers in their processing decisions.

Based on the results of the previous work packages, eco-design guidelines for automotive EES have been developed considering improvement potentials along the whole life cycle. This includes a method for qualitative evaluation of product characteristics to identify priority life cycle phases for improvement and to check positive / negative effects of possible redesign options. A list of guidelines to address main issues in each life cycle steps has been provided together with other recommended actions to be taken by other life cycle stakeholders (e.g. car manufacturer, user, recycler, etc.).

The eco-design guidelines and previous SEES findings have been applied for development of a new EES concept with prototyping of specific parts and functions. The new EES concept included improvements on component and system level, e.g. substitution of glass fillers in plastics by natural fibres, alternative wiring technologies, fuel-efficient navigation system and an integrated energy management system. Tests with intelligent materials for automatic disassembly showed that the currently available functional materials are not able to fulfil the strict temperature and mechanical requirements to be applied in automotive EES. The new EES concept options have been tested and assessed with regard to benefits or drawbacks on assembly, disassembly, environmental and economic profile and recyclability potential.

The main products of the SEES project were:
- investigation of the optimal transport, dismantling and shredding procedures for the automotive EES through real tests;
- demonstrated metal and plastic recycling technologies for automotive EES, including value-added applications of the recycled materials;
- environmental and economic assessment of the EES life cycle steps using LCA and LCC methodologies;
- specific methodologies and a software tool to assess end-of-life scenarios and recyclability / recoverability of EES products;
- eco-design guidelines to improve future EES designs towards sustainability;
- new EES concepts and specific parts / functions prototypes to improve sustainability of EES.

The SEES project aimed at the development of guidelines, prototypes and processes striving for sustainable, clean, cost- and eco-efficient automotive EES. Within this project, the partners provided an analysis of disassembly and shredding processes, developed recycling processes for EES materials, evaluated the environmental and economic life cycle of EES products, developed eco-design guidelines and concepts for a new EES. It has been shown that design changes can contribute to improving the production and use phase, but have no significant influence on improving disassembly. It also has been shown that disassembly of the studied parts prior to shredding is not reasonable for material recycling. However, innovative end-of-life processes are capable of recovering additional materials from EES where markets are available. Furthermore, concepts for an optimised EES which consider the whole EES life cycle are currently developed for which also technical and economical feasibility is analysed. In particular, improved EES designs and concepts and - to a significant lesser extent - the optimised end-of-life processes help to realise a more sustainable automotive EES scenario for the future.

More information, presentations, papers and project reports can be found on the SEES project homepage, found at: