The biggest hurdle to economical recycling of automotive plastics is that they can't be properly sorted and identified. Most plastics on new vehicles now are labeled, but it's an impossible guessing game with older models heading to the salvage yard. At SAE the American Plastics Council introduces a prototype machine that can distinguish between 23 different types of automotive plastics after scanning for only five seconds. That's faster than traditional plastics-identification equipment. Filler materials used in automotive applications such as glass and talc also can be detected.

Made by Brucker Instruments Inc., the P/ID 28 machine (see photo, p. 39) uses infrared technology to distinguish the chemical makeup of varying plastics. Unlike other infrared identification equipment, this system can identify black-colored plastics and requires minimal sample preparation time, APC says. Modified specifically for use with plastics, the equipment is highly reliable, easy to use and soon will be available to recyclers, material suppliers and others involved with recycling, APC says. The specially modified machine costs about $50,000, but the price is expected to drop as production volume increases. The machine now is in use at the Big Three's Vehicle Recycling Development Center.

RESIN USES OLD POLYMERS

A new grade of ARCO Chemical Co.'s Dylark engineering resin offers improved strength and handling characteristics by adding up to 10% reclaimed acrylic resin. The idea of adding acrylic was developed with Ford Motor Co. and was originally supposed to use polymethylacrylate scrap from acrylic taillight and instrument-panel lens production. The next step is to use reclaimed polymers at levels up to 25%.

The new resin is used in instrument panel substrates for Mazda and Ford Ranger pickups and throughout the full Ford/Lincoln-Mercury line. It can be made from post-industrial or post-consumer acrylic polymer.

OLD CARPETS UNDER HOOD

What do you do with worn-out commercial carpet? Ask DuPont Automotive. A pilot plant in Chattanooga, TN, goes on stream this summer that will make post-consumer recycle-content nylon engineering resins from used nylon carpet. The face fibers are melt-recycled and compounded with virgin nylon resins. The finished product is targeted for underhood applications such as engine fans, shrouds and air cleaners. A commercial-scale plant that could reprocess more than 100 million lbs. (45,400 t) of nylon annually is scheduled to begin operation in Kingston, Ontario, by the year 2000.