Replacements for hexavalent chromium in both plating and passivation processes are becoming necessary because of the End-of-Life Directive from the European Union that prohibits the use of hexavalent chromium and/or regulates the quantities used. The Directive requires a certificate for vehicles that allows authorities to control the destiny of the vehicles, while the car manufacturer meets all or a significant part of the take-back costs.
A prohibition on the use of heavy metals, such as hexavalent chromium, in materials and components of vehicles will exist from January 1, 2003, according to the document. Quantified targets for the reuse/recovery of end-of-life vehicles are 85% by weight per vehicle by 2005 and 95% by 2015. These are rather lofty targets if you think about it. Sure, bumpers have been recycled for years, but what about headliners, dashboards and electronics?
I first covered this topic in our sister publication, Automotive Finishing, and found that many people are interested in this issue. An article in this issue of Products Finishing covers the background of hexavalent chromium passivations and comments on alternative strategies available.
You may wonder why a European Directive has any affect on American finishers. Well, according to one report, General Motors will not allow the use of hexavalent chromium passivations beginning in the year 2002. Volvo has imposed limits on the content of free hexavalent chromium contained within the conversion coating used on its vehicles, stating that it must not exceed 0.3 µg/cm2 after testing.
The Directive will affect any global automotive manufacturer that supplies the European market. Because automotive manufacturers prefer to establish one set of standards applicable to their products wherever they are manufactured, the directive will affect finishers worldwide who supply the automotive industry. This means finishers may have to install new processes or new lines in order to keep their businesses. But how can they do this if they don't know what's out there and what's acceptable?
Products Finishing will continue to keep readers advised of the situation, with new product announcements and information on what the automotive community is doing about the issue.