Component end-of-life management: Exploring opportunities and related benefits of remanufacturing and functional recycling
Journal article, 2015
Over the past few decades, concerns about resource scarcity along with interest in resource efficiency have become part of the societal discourse. Many companies and research entities have documented efforts to increase resource efficiency with improved management of product end-of-life (EoL) and more specifically, with remanufacturing (reuse) and improved recycling. This paper does something complementary; it presents a case study of a multi-national component manufacturer (the company) and one its main product types, low-alloyed steel components that are utilized in a myriad of applications and industries. Although the company knows that its products are generally recycled and sometimes remanufactured (by its own operations), it wanted to know more about the downstream material flows and related loss of material and function. Using material flow analysis (MFA), simplified LCA and analysis of company sales data, downstream material flows of the components were mapped out and potential environmental benefits related to remanufacturing and recycling were quantified. Results show that there are large differences in the amount of material needed and global warming potential (GWP) incurred depending on what end-users chose to do with the components at EoL. Unsurprisingly, remanufacturing and functional recycling (recycling to alloyed steel) are shown to result in great reductions with regard to both material efficiency and global warming. Notably, many of the EoL components end up in mixed scrap and later, carbon steel, where the function of the alloying elements (Ni, Mo, Cr, Mn) is lost. Combined MFA-LCA results indicate that replacing these lost alloying elements make up a tangible part of the component's total contribution to global warming. Finally, the analysis of company sales data and remanufacturing preferences indicate that there is a large potential to remanufacture more. In total, findings indicate that the limits of "feasible" remanufacturing have not been reached. They also show that dedicated recycling of even low-alloyed steel components into alloyed steel rather than carbon steel could yield tangible environmental gains. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.