General Motors Turns Gulf Coast Oil Booms Into Chevy Volt Parts

DETROIT, MI — Although it might be a stretch to say that something good has come of last summer's tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a new announcement this morning from General Motors showcases the power of creative thinking.

The company is planning to collect the booms used to absorb oil from the spill* along 100 miles of the Alabama and Louisiana coasts and recycle them into parts to be used in the new Chevy Volt.

GM estimates it will net about 100,000 pounds of plastic resin from recycling the booms, which it will then use to make air deflectors for the Volt's radiator. The amount of recycled plastic from the booms will be enough to supply parts for the entire estimated first year of Volt production.

The air deflectors will be made of 25 percent boom material and 25 percent recycled tires from GM's Milford Proving Ground vehicle test site. The remaining 50 percent consists of some post-consumer recycled plastics and other polymers, according to a company statement.

GM had to work with a number of partners to develop the supply chain for collecting and converting the booms. Heritage Environmental was responsible for collecting the booms in Louisiana, which handed the booms off to Mobile Fluid Recovery for use of its high-speed drum to spin the booms, drying them and eliminating oil and wastewater. Then, Lucent Polymers got the boom material into a physical state for producing the plastic parts, and GM's tier-one supplier GDC Inc. combined the recycled plastic resin with the tire materials and other polymers to produce the actual products.

"This was purely a matter of helping out," John Bradburn, manager of GM's waste-reduction efforts, said in a statement. "If sent to a landfill, these materials would have taken hundreds of years to begin to break down and we didn't want to see the spill further impact the environment. We knew we could identify a beneficial reuse of this material given our experience.

General Motors has long had a commitment to reducing waste and recycling materials whenever possible. Earlier this month, the company announced that it had met its goal of having half its plants be landfill-free, with a total of 76 plants, or 52 percent, achieving landfill-free status. The company also incorporates recycled and renewable materials into its cars and trucks, and has achieved an 85 percent recyclable rate for its vehicles.

* [Not the booms made from pantyhose donated by Hooters. - Ed.]

Photo CC-licensed by Deepwater Horizon Response.