Jackie Thompson

The automobile industry is under pressure to reduce its carbon footprint. Although there are many challenges in transitioning to cleaner forms of mobility, the industry acknowledges that it must look beyond electric vehicles to decarbonize transportation. ‘Circular manufacturing’ strategies can reduce waste by reducing and recycling parts to make new cars. Salvaging car parts and reusing can become a viable solution to the global problem.

Manufacturing in a Circular Economy

Internal combustion engine (ICE) cars emit an average of 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. In view of the magnitude of the problem and the pollution it causes, many countries in the world are proposing bans on the sale of ICE vehicles starting from 2035. In the US, California is the first state to ban the sale of ICE cars from 2035 onwards. This means that people must adapt to the new regulation and shift to non-polluting cars.

Reducing carbon emissions is also a vital strategy because from production to the afterlife of cars, they continue to pollute the environment. Hence, the idea of a circular manufacturing arose to move towards zero-carbon cars. Vehicles and their parts must be reused, recycled, and remanufactured. The idea is not well-developed and is just in the conceptual phase. However, car companies are already claiming superiority in the field. For example, GM says that it is a ‘leader in circular economy,’ according to a news release in 2020.  Other leading brands such as Tesla, BMW, and Toyota also made the same claim.  ne.

Fortunately, progress is being made. Abhishek Gupta of the World Economic Forum’s Circular Cars Initiative says that ‘people think they are only talking about recycling, but circular manufacturing is much larger than that.’  The idea is to reduce the amount of energy and material that goes into building a vehicle whether it’s to use more renewable energy or recycled parts. According to Gupta, looking at the carbon footprint and resources used can establish the level of circularity.

What Happens When a Car Is Junked

A car is junked when it is no longer working or worth the cost of repairing it. There is no resale value, but the parts may still be worth something. In circular manufacturing, vehicles are stripped for valuable parts. For example, the engine may still be working and can be reused. If no longer viable, the parts are separated and metal that is not contaminated with oil or other hazardous substances can be put with other recyclables. Sorting of recyclables is made easier in circular manufacturing if the design of cars also includes a dismantling plan to make it easier to separate materials.  Hence, car plants will have their own supply chain of materials from stripped parts. French auto brand, Renault, has the Refactory in Flins, France. It is Europe’s first factory dedicated to making and refurbishing vehicles and even converting some to electric vehicles. The dismantling line not only provides parts for discontinued cars, but also reconditions second-hand vehicles. In addition, it retrofits combustion motor vehicles to lesser-polluting power sources.

The carbon footprint of combustion cars is enormous. The good news is with circular manufacturing, auto companies are making the effort to reduce, reuse, and retrofit car parts to minimize the junk that ends up in the environment.

Photo by Garett Mizunaka on Unsplash