For nearly as long as cars and trucks have been on the road, they have been reused and recycled. Since the early 20th century, automotive recycling facilities have played a valuable role in the recovery, rebuilding, and reselling of usable vehicles and their parts. Today’s new vehicle technologies, including alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs), bring new challenges to the automotive recycling industry – and those challenges will only increase in the years ahead.
According to the U.S. Energy Administration, there are now more than 26 million alternative fuel vehicles on our nation’s roads. By 2020, the number is expected to reach 33 million and balloon to 76 million by 2050. Like gasoline and diesel powered vehicles, many of these alternative fuel cars and trucks will end up in automotive recycling facilities.
Also like their conventionally fueled counterparts, AFVs are fundamentally safe. However, there are key differences and recycling workers must be properly informed and trained about the best and safest procedures for addressing an AFV when it arrives at the yard. AFV’s unique fuel properties and vehicle components require special skills and knowledge from the automotive recycling standpoint, but pose no more of a safety risk that conventional cars and trucks.
Automotive recycling companies who deal with AFVs are responsible for worker training, and for establishing efficient and safe standard operating procedures for each type of AFV. A clear policy for identifying, labeling, defueling, dismantling, recycling, and crushing AFVs must be set, along with the associated education for all team members. Failure to set procedures, and to provide appropriate training and required personal protective equipment (PPE) can result in inadvertent fuel leaks and possible injury to personnel.
AFV Recycling Procedures
Currently, there are more than a dozen alternative fuels in production or under development for use in AFVs. The fuels most commonly used for AFVs include:
• Natural Gas
Before recycling a vehicle, determine if it is an AFV. Identifying a vehicle and its fuel type as soon as it gets to the recycling facility is a key part of the AFV recycling process. Without proper and immediate identification, the appropriate steps and technician skills needed to address AFVs cannot be implemented. To identify an AFV, look for:
• Exterior badging
• Nonstandard dash indicators and gauges
• Nonstandard fuel ports (check inside fuel door for fuel labeling)
• Specialized components such as under hood orange high-voltage cables (electric cars) or pressurized fuel cylinders in a car’s trunk or in a pickup truck’s bed (CNG and Propane)
Once identified, each alternative fuel vehicle should be clearly labeled, per a set company policy. This could be through grease pencil windshield labeling, spray paint, or a colorful wiper tag or streamer. The only requirement should be that the labeling be prominent so that all personnel who encounter the vehicle during the recycling process can easily see that it is an AFV.
AFVs and their fuels have unique properties, components, and concerns that must be given consideration when recycling. Be aware that:
• Some AFV fuels react adversely to water
• Other AFV fuels are asphyxiates
• Certain AFV fuels are heavier than air and can pool in low-lying areas
• Some AFV fuels are cryogenic and can cause instant frostbite
• The fumes from some high-voltage batteries can cause severe respiratory problems
• Electric vehicles always contain high voltage until the high-voltage battery is removed
If it is necessary to tow an AFV or to move an AFV with a forklift:
• Stop any fuel or battery electrolyte fuel leak
• Locate and identify the type of fuel the vehicle uses for power, and never connect towing equipment to fuel tanks or high voltage components
• Tow biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas, or propane vehicles using conventional towing methods
• Tow electric drive vehicles with a rollback or flatbed ONLY
• Always wear proper PPE
Once a vehicle has been identified as an AFV and is ready to be recycled, the vehicle must be examined for potential hazards.
• Look for leaking fuel or battery electrolytes
• Monitor air for flammable vapors
• Remember, some alternative fuels are odorless, colorless and tasteless
Before dismantling an AFV:
• Isolate the fuel system by removing the 12-volt battery.
• Remove all vehicle fuel. Note that defueling some gaseous fuel AFVs requires specialized training and equipment, and should only be attempted by trained and equipped personnel.
• Remember that some vehicles have two fueling systems: one conventional (gasoline or diesel), and one alternative fuel.
• On an electric vehicle, remove the high-voltage battery service disconnect. It is important to remember that high-voltage ALWAYS resides in the high voltage battery, and high-voltage batteries should only be harvested and handled from an electric vehicle by trained personnel in a secure area, using necessary PPE.
When removing components, personnel should follow certain guidelines. A safety check as to the status of the fuel system should always take place before removing a fuel system or electric vehicle component.
• DO NOT disconnect gaseous fuel lines before fuel pressure is fully released
• DO NOT puncture or cut fuel tanks
• DO NOT cut orange or blue high voltage cables, high-voltage battery packs, or fuel cells
• DO NOT cut the vehicle below floor line unless you are certain you will not be cutting through fuel lines or high voltage cables
• DO NOT damage or puncture high-voltage lines, batteries, fuel tanks, or other fueling system components
After all the parts have been salvaged from an AFV, it is now ready for crushing. Before this final step, it is imperative that all AFV fuel tanks have been removed and the high-voltage battery has been removed from the vehicle. Crushing a CNG or propane fuel tank or a high-voltage battery can result in an explosion and/or fire, and injury or possible death to those operating the crushing equipment.
Appropriate PPE is consistent across all vehicles, both conventional and alternative fueled. However, some AFVs require specialized PPE:
• High voltage gloves for electric vehicles
• Standard work gloves for other AFVs
• Insulated gloves when working with some cryogenic gaseous fuels
• Eye protection
• Long sleeved shirts & pants that cover the ankles
Remember, nothing is more important than safety, and safety is everyone’s job.
The NAFTC has a wealth of information about alternative fuel vehicles, including workbooks to explain AFV recycling and towing, and classroom training for organizations and municipalities interested in AFVs and the towing/recycling process. Later in 2017, the NAFTC will launch an online course for AFV recycling and a second online course for AFV towing.
By Micheal Smyth
National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium Note: The information provided in this article is designed to provide an overview of AFVs and the recycling process, and should not be used as a replacement for safety training.