Chevy Volt Gets Even Greener, Uses Parts From Recycled BP Oil Spill Booms

December 21, 2010

We've spilled a lot of ink on the Chevrolet Volt, its intriguing powertrain, and its potential sales stats. But today, a different spill is fueling buzz about the newest hybrid on the block -- namely, the BP oil spill.

In a story that's part head-scratcher, part publicity stunt, General Motors has announced that it's taking roughly 100 miles worth of boom used to soak up oil from BP's spill in the Gulf of Mexico and converting it into parts for the Chevy Volt. The recovery and refinement process is anything but simple. According a press release from GM (pasted below):

Heritage Environmental managed the collection of boom material along the Louisiana coast. Mobile Fluid Recovery stepped in next, using a massive high-speed drum that spun the booms until dry and eliminated all the absorbed oil and wastewater. Lucent Polymers used its process to then manipulate the material into the physical state necessary for plastic die-mold production.  Tier-one supplier, GDC Inc., used its patented EndurapreneTM material process to combine the resin with other plastic compounds to produce the components.

Once recycled, each boom will yield around 1,000 pounds of plastic resin, generating a total of 100,000 of raw materials for Volt components (and, as the press release points out, keeping it out of landfills). The resin will be mixed with tire material from GM's Milford Proving Ground facility, as well as other polymers to create parts designed to deflect air around the Volt's radiator. Because of the size of the oil spill -- and the number of booms used to contain it -- GM says that the recovery will generate enough plastic to create parts for other GM vehicles, too.

It would be pretty easy to dismiss this news as a feel-good stunt from GM -- something to win back the public's favor and catch up with the market's current golden boy, Ford. After all, this seems like a lot of work for such a very specific part, and with GM losing money on every Volt, surely the company could find more streamlined, efficient ways of going green. And of course we have to wonder: when the oil spill cleanup moves to its next phase and booms are no longer needed, what's GM to do for raw materials then?

On the other hand, it's interesting to see GM match a green product with green means of production. Is it a perfect match? Not by a long shot. But GM fans can cite it as evidence that GM has become nimble enough to think outside the proverbial box. And if nothing else, the news offers some interesting food for thought about the future of automobile production -- as long as that future includes oil spills.

* * * * *

Chevrolet Volt Components Created from Gulf of Mexico Oil-Soaked Booms

100,000 Pounds of Waste Saved from the Nation’s Landfills

DETROIT – Oil-soaked plastic boom material used to soak up oil in the Gulf of Mexico is finding new life as auto parts in the Chevrolet Volt.

General Motors has developed a method to convert an estimated 100 miles of the material off the Alabama and Louisiana coasts and keep it out of the nation’s landfills. The ongoing project is expected to create enough plastic under hood parts to supply the first year production of the extended-range electric vehicle.

“Creative recycling is one extension of GM’s overall strategy to reduce its environmental impact,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety policy.  “We reuse and recycle material by-products at our 76 landfill-free facilities every day. This is a good example of using this expertise and applying it to a greater magnitude.”

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