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Abel Ortego, Alicia Valero, Antonio Valero, and Eliette Restrepo (2018)

Vehicles and Critical Raw Materials: A Sustainability Assessment Using Thermodynamic Rarity

Journal of Industrial Ecology, 0(0).

The changing material composition of cars represents a challenge for future recycling of end‐of‐life vehicles (ELVs). Particularly, as current recycling targets are based solely on mass, critical metals increasingly used in cars might be lost during recycling processes, due to their small mass compared to bulk metals such as Fe and Al. We investigate a complementary indicator to material value in passenger vehicles based on exergy. The indicator is called thermodynamic rarity and represents the exergy cost (GJ) needed for producing a given material from bare rock to the market. According to our results, the thermodynamic rarity of critical metals used in cars, in most cases, supersedes that of the bulk metals that are the current focus of ELV recycling. While Fe, Al, and Cu account for more than 90% of the car's metal content, they only represent 60% of the total rarity of a car. In contrast, while Mo, Co, Nb, and Ni account for less than 1% of the car's metal content, their contribution to the car's rarity is larger than 7%. Rarity increases with the electrification level due to the greater amount of critical metals used; specifically, due to an increased use of (1) Al alloys are mainly used in the car's body‐in‐white of electric cars for light‐weighting purposes, (2) Cu in car electronics, and (3) Co, Li, Ni, and rare earth metals (La, Nd, and Pr) in Li‐ion and NiMH batteries

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