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Audi is working out how to use old cars to build new ones

We’re told this is a process called recycling? Not sure the car industry has heard of this before...

Published: 06 Mar 2023

Audi’s newest project is one that actually feels a bit old-hat: building new cars using materials recycled from old ones. 

Simple as it may seem, it’s actually something that’s rarely done, and even more rarely done well – the steel from recycled car bodies tends to go to the structural side of the construction business, aluminium tends to be mixed in with lower-grade alloys used to cast engine parts (something with a definite end date) and plastics tend to go nowhere fast. 

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But now Audi, along with “15 partners from the research, recycling, and supplier sectors”, is in the process of figuring out how to turn old Audis into new ones. The pilot programme, called MaterialLoop, has already produced a way to reuse steel in “15,000 inner door parts for the Audi A4” and plastic from old grilles for seatbelt covers in the Q8 e-tron since its beginning in October 2022, and its directors have set their sights on figuring out how to retain “high-quality” aluminium and glass before the programme finishes in April. 

If you, like us, thought that aluminium could just be recycled infinitely, becoming coke cans in one life, a billet fuel rail in another and a mountain bike in the third, we have some bad news – apparently, that’s a taller order than you think. Aluminium is often alloyed to suit specific requirements for strength, cost, corrosion resistance and so on, and when all aluminium-based products are recycled indiscriminately, that leaves the whole thing as a lower-grade product that’s commercially unviable to refine back to pure, body-panel-worthy material. So there’s a lot to figure out here. 

Essentially the end goal though is that no new material is added and none is discarded. Sounds great – even if the phrase ‘closed loop’ doesn’t – but it’s quite a tricky stage to get to, involving... well, every step from rocks to the rubbish tip. Little wonder, then, that Audi’s enlisted this much help.

In any case, each part of the programme to reuse old Audis to build new ones has a ‘loop’ suffix – MaterialLoop, PlasticLoop, MillimetresOfFollowingDistanceLoop – and we should start to see more of the results in the coming years. Even if it seems like something we should have been doing all along. 

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