How can complex products such as car headlights be transferred to a circular economy? This is the question being addressed by a consortium led by FORVIA company HELLA, which also includes Covestro, BMW, geba Kunststoffcompounds as well as the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechatronic Systems Design IEM, the Heinz Nixdorf Institute and Hamm-Lippstadt University of Applied Sciences. The aim is to optimize sustainability throughout the entire life cycle in order to make products more climate-friendly and conserve resources.
The research project, called NALYSES, started in October 2022, is designed to last three years and is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)1. Miele is also involved in the project as an associated partner in order to evaluate the transferability of the results to the production of household appliances.
Modern materials such as the plastic polycarbonate fulfill important requirements in the development and design of today’s headlights, including the transparent cover of such lighting systems. However, they also play an important role when it comes to their reuse, remanufacturing or end-of-life material recycling. Current developments are also aimed at a more sustainable raw material base.
“The focus of our involvement in this pioneering project is the design of a materials and recycling strategy. We have extensive expertise in this area,” explains Jan Helmig, Global Technical Marketing Manager Lighting and Project Manager for NALYSES at Covestro. “As part of the new project, we want to work with partners to develop a near-series solution that incorporates the entire product cycle.”
Simplified recycling by focusing on one plastic
A few years ago, Covestro already presented a visionary headlamp concept for the vehicle lighting of the future. The modular approach is based on different types of polycarbonate and reduces assembly steps, space requirements, costs – and CO2 emissions, as the weight of the prototype can be reduced by up to 1.5 kilograms compared to conventional solutions. The key, however, is focusing on one plastic, as this can reduce the labor required to separate, sort and store it in recycling streams without sacrificing performance.
Covestro also offers more sustainable polycarbonate grades. These Makrolon® RE products are climate neutral2 from cradle to Covestro´s factory gate, thanks to the use of renewable electricity for its own production processes and the introduction of raw materials derived from mass-balanced biowaste and residues.
In the future, lighting systems are to be designed in such a way that they can be recycled at the highest possible value-added level. This also includes the reuse of entire assemblies. As part of the NALYSES project, Covestro is supporting these developments, including the evaluation of technologies for materials recycling. The company is also responsible for characterizing and optimizing material properties and is working to extend the service life of headlights with the help of suitable materials.
The new project looks at the entire value chain from raw materials to design and overall system requirements, as defined by car manufacturers such as BMW. The development and analysis of a digital twin ensures the assessment of recyclability and carbon footprint at any stage of the development process. In this way, less sustainable developments can be avoided even before design and production.
1 Funding measure on “Towards sustainable mobility through circular value creation (MobilKreis)”, funding code: 02J21E105. The abbreviation NALYSES stands for the German translation of “Sustainability-Optimized Life Cycle Assessment of Technologically Highly Complex Products Using the Example of Automotive Lighting”.
2 The “climate neutral” rating is the result of an assessment of a subsection of the entire product life cycle. The section from resource extraction (cradle) to Covestro’s factory gate, including biogenic carbon uptake, was considered. The assessment is based on ISO standard 14040 and was critically reviewed for plausibility by TÜV Rheinland.