A beginning but no end: there are hundreds of valuable raw materials to be found in every car. For many years now, BMW has been working on recycling them in ways that are both efficient and eco-friendly. Every material has a story of its own to tell: from its origin and initial use to its recovery and reuse.
- Thomas de Monaco
- Michael Seitz
From copper to rubber chips and carbon fibres – turning old into new.
On an industrial estate in the north of Munich there are stocks of crude oil, copper, aluminium, rubber, iron, gold and platinum. These precious raw materials are hidden, though, and are very difficult to get to. They can be found in doors, seats, tyres, engines and exhaust systems. Not too long ago, most people would have called the BMW Recycling and Dismantling Centre nothing more than a scrapyard. These days, though, scrap has long since been rechristened recyclable materials. In view of the planet’s dwindling resources and rising commodity prices, people no longer just throw away high-value industrial products, such as motor vehicles. Scrapping has given way to salvaging.
At the same time, the attitude of many consumers in the developed world has changed as well. Everyday objects are now used as extensively and wisely as possible and are shared and utilised for as long as possible. One of the effects of this transformation is that people are also taking an interest in their vehicle’s life cycle assessment: besides a resource-friendly production process and low fuel consumption during the car’s service life, another crucial factor is the sustainable reuse of the raw materials it contains. Quite apart from this, the recycling rates stipulated by law are becoming increasingly stringent as well. In the EU, for example, manufacturers must guarantee that they will take back end-of-life vehicles and recycle 95 per cent of the materials used.
Even at the development stage, BMW examines the recycling and dismantling of any new technologies, such as hybrid or electrical technology, or future materials such as carbon fibre. While doing so, the company’s specialists occasionally come across processes or appliances that later prove useful to the entire industry – such as a digger with an oversized gripping tool shaped like a spaghetti fork. The digger stabs the fork into the wiring harness in the vicinity of the transmission and then winds the harness together from all corners of the car into a highly valuable 35-kilogram ball of copper.