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Audi researching industrialization of chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste from manufacturing

As part of the THINKTANK Industrial Resource Strategies, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have been working with Audi on the pilot project “Chemical Recycling of plastics from automotive manufacturing.” The results of the project indicated that the chemical recycling of mixed plastic waste is both technically feasible and environmentally and financially promising.

The plastic waste from automotive manufacturing can be processed into pyrolysis oil and could replace petroleum as a raw material for the production of high-quality plastic components in Audi models. The material cycles closed in this way save valuable resources, energy, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Together with partners from the chemical industry and KIT, Audi now plans to take the next step and research the industrialization of this cycle.

Many components in cars—such as fuel tanks, airbag covers, or radiator grilles—are made of plastics. They need to meet stringent safety, heat resistance, and quality requirements. Plastic automotive components that are subject to particularly high levels of stress can, to date, only be manufactured from materials of virgin material quality, which mechanically recycled plastics usually do not achieve.

Additionally, mixed plastic waste is often not available for mechanical recycling. For this reason, the THINKTANK Industrial Resource Strategies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) launched the pilot project for chemical recycling together with Audi at the end of 2020. Within the scope of the project, tests were carried out to determine the extent to which mixed automotive plastic fractions can be fed back into a resource-friendly cycle via chemical recycling.

Under the leadership of Prof. Dr. Dieter Stapf from the KIT Institute of Technical Chemistry and Dr. Rebekka Volk from the KIT Institute of Industrial Management and Industrial Production (IIP), scientists investigated the technical feasibility of the process as well as its cost-effectiveness and its impact on the environment.

Audi is one of the first automakers to test this recycling method in a pilot project with automotive plastic waste.


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