GM to recycle used Gulf of Mexico oil booms into parts for Volt

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Shredded and densified boom material, post-consumer plastic, and recycled tires are all going into the new Volt components (Photo: GM)

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During the course of this year’s Gulf Oil Spill, a lot of media attention was paid to the oil booms used to contain and/or absorb the surface slick. While a small percentage of the sausage-shaped tubes of netting were stuffed with unusual materials such as hair, most of them contained oil-absorbent polypropylene. Now that the Deep Horizon well has been capped, the question of what to do with all that oily plastic arises. It turns out that some of it will find its way into Chevrolet Volts.

In an announcement made this Monday, GM stated that it would be recycling about 100 miles (161 km) worth of used boom material for use in its Volt extended-range electric cars. More specifically, the material will make up 25 percent of the plastic used in parts designed to deflect air around the cars’ radiators. Another 25 percent will come from recycled tires from the company’s Milford Proving Ground vehicle test facility, while the rest will be a mixture of post-consumer plastics and other polymers.

It is estimated that the recycling of the booms will divert over 100,000 pounds (45,359 kg) of plastic from landfills.

Several companies were involved in the project. The process began with Heritage Environmental, which collected the boom material from the Louisiana and Alabama coastlines. Using a giant high-speed drum, Mobile Fluid Recovery then spun the material to remove all the oil and water. The cleaned-up plastic was then treated by Lucent Polymers, to prepare it for die-mold production. Finally, GDC Inc. combined the resultant resin with other plastic compounds, and produced the finished components.

GM expects work to continue on the Gulf coast for at least two more months, until the need for assistance in the recycling of oil booms is no longer required. It is expected that enough plastic will ultimately be recovered to supply parts for other models besides the Volt.

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