Copper is one of the world’s most sought-after metals, widely used in automotive, but a metal with global mineable supply that could be exhausted in around 40 years.

Toyota said it has worked with a group of industry partners to define a system to retrieve and recycle copper from vehicle wiring harnesses, helping secure a valuable new source of the raw material. This would be a world’s first according to the Japanese manufacturer.

Copper is in high demand for infrastructure development in emerging markets and is also used in the manufacture of electric motors for hybrid, PHEV and EV powertrains.

Toyota and its project partners Yazaki and Toyota Tsusho began working with eight specialist vehicle dismantling businesses in Japan in 2010 on a program that included establishing quality requirements for pre-processing vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life, added Toyota.

It had not been possible to recycle harnesses in the past for their copper content using mechanical methods. Toyota and its partners stated they came up with a new sorting method that safeguards the metal from contamination by minute impurities during the dismantling process.

Trials were subsequently launched at Toyota’s Honsha plant in 2013, and after stringent quality checks, the retrieved copper was successfully reintroduced into the vehicle production process, said Toyota.

The manufacturer explained this technology has delivered recycled metal with 99.96 percent purity, a level which can secure stable production quality. Toyota estimates as much as 1,000 tons of copper can be produced annually using the new recycling process.

Toyota explained this will strengthen the competitiveness of the company and its partners in the project as they combat the depletion of natural resources.