Recycling results in Renault’s ‘plastic’ upholstery (on the Zoe EV at least)
While it may take time, largely due to the development of new machinery, reports Iain Robertson, when the motor industry invests in its eco-future, it can do a great job, as witnessed by Renault and its new plastic waste yarn…that is no yarn!
Major manufacturing concerns have a responsibility to address their consumption of natural, raw materials and reduce it substantially. It is all very well for the motor industry to produce so-called eco-friendly, electric vehicles but, if the environmental impact is just as great for an EV, as it is for a conventional motor vehicle, it is worth asking, what is the point?
The marketing departments of all major manufacturers, not just in the motor industry, are all too willing to jump on their latest ‘innovations’ and praise them to the nines, often without delving into the deeper implications. Naturally, they are reliant on the superficial publicity generated by social media, which seldom dips beyond the up-front headline value.
One of my greatest disappointments of the past decade was delivered at the hugely wasteful launch that Citroen carried out for its exciting new Cactus model. Around 300 motoring media exponents attended the gig held in Paris. At the exposition, held in various halls of a well-lit and air-conditioned facility, several aspects of the new Cactus model were dismantled, displayed and explained to us in finite detail. Despite the fact that this all-new car was not as all-new as Citroen would have loved us to believe (it regurgitated C2 and C3 components in a cheaper body), it missed the boat comprehensively on the recycling front. Named as ‘Cactus’, I anticipated (wrongly) that plant fibres may have been used in its construction. None were.
On the other hand, the technology-led approach by BMW for its all-new i3 model, apart from using carbon-fibre and advanced plastics to create its chassis and bodywork, it also used specially carded plant fibres and recycled plastics for its upholstery, dashboard and door trims. I was ecstatic. At last, a car manufacturer was investing in alternative, renewable materials, rather than exhausting the alternatives. It was a major step in the right direction.
Thanks to an understanding about carded yarns and textiles, using textile scrap from the automotive industry and polyester fibres from the recycling of plastic bottles (PET), a new woven material now clads the interior of the latest Renault Zoe. Covering a total area of 8m², seat covers, dashboard coverings, gear lever brackets and door fittings meet consumer requirements for comfort, cleaning, UV resistance and durability, while reducing CO2 emissions by 60% over stock fabrics.
The motor industry has an essential role to play in changing its production methods and reducing environmental impact. In Renault’s case, its partners, Filatures du Parc and Adient Fabrics, demonstrate that it is possible to make changes, when the availability and cost of raw materials are becoming a real strategic issue. The development of fabrics made from short-loop recycled products, such as those designed for the Zoe, is undeniably the future.
Developed in the 15th Century, textile, clothing and leather industries are an integral part of the economic heritage of the Occitania region in France, particularly in Tarn and Ariège. The development of new textile products that are technical, sustainable and competitive is a real growth lever for the region’s players and an opportunity to position themselves in new markets, to secure jobs and develop new skills.
Renault Environment, a Groupe Renault subsidiary dedicated to a circular economy and created in 2008, collects materials intended for a second life, such as scraps of safety belts and scrap from the manufacture of virgin fabrics for the automotive sector. Once cut and shredded, the belt and textile fibres are mixed with polyester fibres from plastic bottles to guarantee their cohesion and vital fibre length, before undergoing a series of carding operations. The traditional carding technique makes it possible to obtain new weaving yarns thanks to a system of drums lined with very fine steel tips rotating at high speed. It is a process not reliant on chemical, or thermal transformation, which disentangles and divides, stretching, then aligning parallel and finally twisting the fibres cleared of impurities.
This 100% recycled carded yarn has been patented jointly by Groupe Renault with Filatures du Parc. Adient Fabrics, a weaver and supplier of 1 in 3 automotive seats in the world, receives the reconstituted yarn on reels at its Laroque d’Olmes site (Ariège), located 80 miles from the spinning mills, to weave and produce the automotive fabric, upholstery and interior trim for the vehicles.
Groupe Renault is rolling out several material loops, particularly for copper, plastic, platinoids and both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Through Renault Environment (and its subsidiary Gaia), it also develops a whole range of activities in the circular economy, such as the treatment of end-of-life vehicles (through its subsidiary Indra, in partnership with Suez), the recovery of metals (Bonne Comenor, also a joint venture with Suez), the repair, reconditioning, or recycling of electrical batteries, and remanufacturing (renovation of mechanical parts and various used components) in the Choisy-Le-Roi plant.
Conclusion: In an industry that must lead with its innovations, we applaud Renault for taking these vital steps. BMW already does so, with its i3 model, as outlined above. Although a perfect model for recycling scrap, we know that more is possible, because it is a model that harbours both ecological and financial benefits.