Wellman now has more than 150 automotive engineering approvals for use of its engineering plastics made from recycled carpet and other materials. Nearly 40 are for a material trademarked EcoLon, which is made from post-consumer recycled polyamide (nylon).
The specs at Ford, Chrysler and General Motors cover polyamide 6 and 6/6 with glass reinforcement ranging from 19 to 40 percent. Target applications are under the hood, often replacing die cast aluminum at significant weight savings (for example, 30 to 50 percent). Daimler Truck of North America also has issued two specs for EcoLon.
Wellman was founded as the first wool combing plant in South Carolina in 1954. In 1964, the company began production of polyamide and, shortly afterward, polyester staple fibers and plastic resins from recycled raw materials.
Its Engineering Resins group has used post-consumer (PCR) carpet since 1996, and in 2007 developed a two stage carpet recovery process that is said to provide a very high purity of polyamide, which is separated from polypropylene in a patented process. Olefins are often used for pile and backing in carpets. The process involves dry grinding, shredding and separation in centrifuges.
As PP and ash content were reduced, mechanical properties of the PCR resin began to approach virgin resin, opening up demanding, under-the-hood applications such as cylinder head covers, an application that was announced by Ford in 2011.
There are several environmental benefits in addition to cost savings (roughly 10 percent). Greenhouse gases can be reduced 60 percent compared to prime polyamide. Only 5 percent as much water is required to produce the PCR nylon. Less carpet is landfilled. It’s estimated that 4 billion pounds of carpet are landfilled annually. That amount of carpet could be used to produce 1 billion pounds of polyamide, which was the total North American market for polyamide in 2010, according to a document on the Wellman web site.
Ford expanded the use of 100 percent PCR polyamide to cam covers in mid-2014.