Byline: Liz White
Chrysler Group llc is using recycled polyols made by a groundbreaking process based on polyurethane foam scrap. Developed by Infichem Polymers llc these recycled materials are used in the seat foam for Chrysler’s 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The move is the culmination of a programme that started ten years ago, when Chrysler developed some concept cars and put a lot of recycled materials into them, said Jerry Winslow, Infichem Polymers’ vice-president of sales & marketing.
“Chrysler ... is the first automobile maker in the world in production using this process and to have launched it commercially,” he said.
This use gained the car maker an Environmental category award from the SPE (Society of Plastics Engineers) for 2010, Winslow pointed out.
Ibrahim Sendijarevic, ceo of Infichem, based in Sterling Heights, Michigan, pointed out that the company is not doing what other companies have done: taking production waste and using glycolysis to reprocess it.
“Our process is not just glycolysis. We also use a propoxylation step which enables us to make a product that is more consistent and adjust the properties of the polyol to meet the demands of specific PU applications.”
Infichem’s goal is twofold, Sendijarevic said: to establish a recycling process for foamers, and also to produce a polyol which is widely available to the PU industry.
“We built a demonstration size production plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan,” said Sendijarevic. Here scrap foam is transferred from a hopper into a reactor for glycolysis under atmospheric conditions. “An identical reactor ... is where we do propoxylation,” he added.
Infichem put this facility together to demonstrate scale-up of the process and provide materials for evaluation and for initial production purposes, Sendijarevic said.
Now Infichem ships the polyols to Chrysler seat maker Magna Interior Systems, at its new Highland Park, Michigan, seat facility. Once the seat foam is made, Magna assembles the pads into seat frames, adds covers, and dispatches the finished seats to Chrysler’s Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan.
Chrysler to extend use of recycled polyols
“Magna specifies very tightly what Infichem Polymers supplies,” Sendijarevic said. Also, “we do inspect and qualify incoming materials, all of the different types of scrap materials they produce at their moulding facility.”
Sendijarevic pointed out that the polyol Infichem developed with Magna has to meet the Chrysler seat standard — MSDC649.
And the two companies have established “characterisation of the polyol product we supply back to them,” he added.
Chrysler now plans to extend its use of recycled polyols, according to Rod Eaton, Chrysler’s manager for Jeep Grand Cherokee Interiors. “We are not only looking right now in the very short term at expanding the percentage we use in the Grand Cherokee,” he said.
“We also plan to use it in other Cherokee models, and there are investigations under way to expand it to other vehicle lines as well,” Eaton continued, noting that currently the recycled content is at 5 percent of the total seat weight and at 8-10 percent of the foam polyol.
“For seat cushions we feel we can probably go up to 10 percent safely and for the headrests to 20 percent safely,” Eaton added.
Former Chrysler employee John Reynolds, now a consultant to Infichem as well as materials development manager at Unique Fabricating, of Auburn Hills, Michigan, said his company is “also investigating [use of recycled polyols] in fabrications and working on additional parts such as seals and gaskets and sound deadeners,” as well as additional parts.
Rod Eaton agreed that headliners and other parts would be good to investigate, “as well as structural foams in the body, which would be a great application, because there we could probably use 100-percent recycled polyol.”
Winslow also mentioned carpet foam, noting that “a lot of applications are under investigation.”
Chrysler is also committed to using polyols from old seat pads, Eaton agreed. “As Dr Sendijarevic says, it’s meeting the specifications that we are aiming for, and that’s between Magna and Infichem. So where it comes from doesn’t really matter. It’s all performance based,” he commented.
Eaton was unable to discuss future Chrysler projects in detail, saying that decisions are made model by model.
But he said that at Chrysler, “we’re very excited about the programme.”
Eaton and the others spoke to UTI in a 23 Sept telephone interview, while Sendijarevic and Winslow further discussed the project 12 Oct at the CPI/UTECH event in Houston, Texas.
Asked if Infichem is working with other seat and carmakers on recycled polyols, Winslow said confidentiality stops the company disclosing specifics. But “We are aggressively pursuing the industry, both automotive and non-automotive,” he concluded.
Soya polyols also in use at Chrysler
Infichem supplies the polyols to MS Chemical Technologies, part of Magna Seating. “We do the formulating for all the seat foam at Magna,” said Steve Erikson MS Chemical Technologies’ director of manufacturing.
“In the case of Chrysler, its new seating specification is quite stringent, and we had to do some development work to meet that request,” he said. Erikson sees the advantage “of being able to formulate our own chemistry is that it allows us to meet each OEM’s specification exactly.”
The formulation expert said, “We have formulations that use soya natural oil polyols as well,” at a level of 8-10 percent, noting that some of its formulations do not use recycled materials because of the specifications.
Magna is currently only using soya polyols for pouring seat foam, although Erikson said, “We do have some formulations for headrests and small parts where we can use higher levels because the specifications are different.”
And Chrysler is using soya foam in some seats — the Chrysler 300 seats have 5 percent soya polyol, by weight, followed by the Charger and the Challenger models, John Reynolds said.
Winslow commented that Chrysler was a leader in using soya polyols in seat foam — even before Ford Motor Co. did.
Asked if recycled polyols will be replacing soya polyols, Eaton said they could easily be used side by side — “whatever is best for the environment. The big thing about this [recycled polyols] programme is that, while we could use soya polyols as a supplement to petrochemically based polyols, it still doesn’t cure the disease of the foam ending up in landfill,” he pointed out.
And the $64 000 question: ‘Can you recycle foam made from recycled polyols?’ did not disturb Sendijarevic. “Magna has supplied us with seat pads based on our polyols, and we showed we could use those pads, made from our polyols in our process,” he said. “So we can close the loop.”
In a later interview, he said that Infichem can also recycle foam made using soya polyols.
Sendijarevic said Infichem will be able to use most of Magna’s scrap foam in this product line. “But eventually I anticipate that their scrap rate won’t be enough to meet all of the demand say from Chrysler or other manufacturers,” he said.
“So we may supplement it with other sources of scrap foam which could include the post-consumer foam from ELVs,” Sendijarevic said, agreeing that Infichem can also use scrap foam from furniture making in its process.
And, “In future we’re also going to be using some rigid scrap material in our process as well,” Sendijarevic commented.