Houston, Texas – A team led by James Tour at Rice University has developed a flash Joule heating process to turn plastic parts from end-of-life vehicles into graphene. The material was sent back to Ford, and incorporated into its graphene-infused polyurethane foam for use in new cars. This enhanced foam has been used in Ford vehicles since 2018, because of its noise reduction and heat resistance properties.
The amount of plastic used in vehicles is increasing as manufacturers chase weight reduction and improved fuel economy, but this is posing greater problems for the manufacturers in the light of end-of-life regulations for vehicles. ‘In Europe, cars come back to the manufacturer, which is allowed to landfill only 5% of a vehicle,’ Tour said. ‘That means they must recycle 95%, and it’s just overwhelming to them.’
Much of the mixed plastic waste will be incinerated, according to Deborah Mielewski, technical fellow at Ford and an author on the paper. With the US shredding more than 10 million vehicles a year, this makes for a large amount of waste. ‘We have hundreds of different combinations of plastic resin, filler and reinforcements on vehicles that make the materials impossible to separate,’ she said.