DETROIT (Dec. 21, 2010)—General Motors Co. is turning refuse from this summer's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico into parts on its new electric car.
The auto maker and a group of suppliers are recycling the oil-soaked plastics from an estimated 100 miles worth of oil booms—combining it with rubber from recycled tires and other resins—to make air deflectors and other functional thermoplastic elastomer parts on the Chevrolet Volt.
“Watching the spill in the Gulf unfold, we wanted to do something if we could,” said Mike Robinson, GM's vice president of environment, energy and safety policy, in a Dec. 20 conference call with journalists. “Our efforts were really a small way to help reduce secondary environmental impact.”
The April explosion of BP's Deep Horizon oil rig in the Gulf and the oil spill that continued until August prompted a big push in production of floating booms. Companies throughout the U.S. turned out booms using polypropylene, polyethylene, PVC and other materials.
Detroit-based GM's project focused on PP booms and will result in recycling 100,000 pounds' worth of resin—enough to produce baffles and other deflector parts for the first year's production of the Volt, Robinson said.
The project takes in a range of suppliers.
Heritage Environmental Services L.L.C. of Indianapolis managed the collection of boom material along the Louisiana coast. Mobile Fluid Recovery Inc. of Evansville, Ind., came next, using a high speed drum to spin the booms until dry, eliminating absorbed oil and wastewater. Oil and water collected from the drying process were reclaimed in a separate process.
Lucent Polymers Inc. of Evansville, Ind., then used its own proprietary system to reprocess the boom material. Finally, GDC Corp. of Goshen, Ind., compounded the material into Enduraprene TPE, using resin from the booms and tires from GM's testing operations.
The finished parts are air baffles used to deflect air around the Volt's radiator.
Some of the companies had already been involved in oil spill recovery, making it easier to coordinate the project, said John Bradburn, manager of GM's waste reduction efforts. Mobile Fluid Recovery, for instance, was already processing some of the oil collected from the spill when the auto maker began putting together ways to reuse the PP in the boom. GDC had supplied some raw material to boom makers.
“It simply became what we call connecting the green dots, introducing suppliers and putting the team together,” Robinson said.
At this point, most of the plastics recovered from the boom are already dedicated to Volt parts, but Robinson said the auto industry uses similar absorbing resins in its plants, and this process could easily point the way to future ways to recycle that material.