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Electrification: the impact on the depollution process and ATFs’ bottom line

Caroline Guest talks about vehicle depollution
Caroline Guest

Whilst at CARS this Summer I was encouraged by the opportunities for recovering value at the end of life being taken advantage of by ATFs and the market for selling dismantled parts. I was given a demonstration by Hollander of their system for managing and selling yard inventory and also saw the value eBay places on this part of ecommerce through their presence.

However, a couple of months later I watched a high-voltage battery being removed from an electric vehicle after it had undergone durability testing and thought about how this would impact on ATFs’ margins. Depollution is a necessary step to be undertaken before any further dismantling or shredding; from discussions with ATFs this process is a cost, it’s done because it’s necessary. HV battery removal will be an additional part of this process and depending on its ease of removal, could add significant costs in terms of labour and equipment.

There are the obvious safety implications of handling these batteries, and ATFs have started to train their staff to be able to handle them. This in itself increases costs, putting pressure on the smaller operations and making it crucial to retain staff once trained. 

The first step with a car with a HV battery is to remove the manual service disconnect (MSD) and then wait about 10 minutes to ensure the passive discharge of the high voltage system has completed. Hybrids (including range extended vehicles) still have an exhaust and this can be located under the battery, complicating removal. There are also multiple high-voltage cables to be safely disconnected and the coolant must be drained from the battery (the coolant system can be integrated with the engine and transmission in one system). Lastly, batteries that are secured to the underside of the vehicle can have over twenty fasteners securing them, which must be carefully removed whilst supporting the weight of the battery (hundreds of kg) so that it doesn’t drop or tip. 

This all adds up to more investment in specialist equipment needed and more cost in terms of labour to carry out the depollution process. Add to this the lack of standardisation in battery architecture and location and design of the MSD and this is a big headache for the smaller operations. Will it be commercially feasible for them to carry out this work? 

There are some OEMs that consider dismantling in their design; Toyota visits dismantling companies in Japan and elsewhere to understand how to develop the vehicle to make it easy to dismantle and separate parts. It has even designed wiring harnesses to be easily stripped out without dismantling other components to increase the value obtained for the copper. However, designing with end of life in mind needs to be more widespread and collaborative across the supply chain, engaging with the ATFs and material processors. 

This is what we are doing with LEVC, as part of an Advanced Propulsion Centre project, looking at how best to recover the value of components and materials at the end of life and how this can be influenced by design.

With most vehicles, dismantlers have to find ways to work around the design, an integrated supply chain with design for disassembly could make this much easier and benefit all involved. Electrification and the increase in potential of end of life vehicles can be seen as a catalyst for driving better integration of the supply chain and flows for retaining the value and creating new opportunities. 

Visit www.hssmi.org to find out more about the company or if you would like to contact Caroline direct please email her at Caroline.Guest@hssmi.org

About the author:

Caroline is a Technical Specialist in Sustainable Manufacturing at HSSMI, a manufacturing innovation company. With an MSc in the topic, her focus is on developing remanufacturing and more efficient use of resources, particularly in the field of automotive electrification. She previously worked at Ford Motor Company, a career spanning over 20 years, working across all areas of the business, focussed mainly on vehicle launches throughout the world.

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