Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2013   by Steve Pawlett

Low-Copper Brake Pads: Cashing In On The New Standard

Each time a driver presses on the brake pedal, a small amount of copper and other metals are deposited on roadways from the vehicle’s brake pad. These metals then wash into streams and rivers. With millions of drivers using their brakes each day, these small amounts significantly pollute our waterways. Copper is very toxic to aquatic life, and it is estimated that brake pads account for up to half of the copper entering water systems in urban areas.

With new U.S. laws being phased in to regulate copper content in brake pads, many aftermarket suppliers are now working on new friction pad formulas and some brake manufacturers have already brought these new low-copper formulations to market.

And, even though the restrictions do not currently apply to brake products for sale in Canada, manufacturers aren’t inclined to supply separate formulations for non-regulated areas.

“Copper pollution is an issue affecting the waterways, potentially harming the aquatic species and polluting our streams and rivers. It is a movement that is currently moving forward in several states (less than 5% total volume by 2021) and is expected to take effect in Canada and the U.S. in subsequent years,” explains Dean Weber of Proforce Automotive. “Copper is a heat dissipater and reduces the temperature between the pad and disc, but there are viable alternatives that improve braking power and lower dust.”

To comply with new laws in Washington and California, the Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) has developed an industry-wide, self-certification program. The Brake Friction Materials Self Certification Compliance Program confirms that friction material suppliers comply with applicable legislation, regulations, and requirements in those states in a phased approach.

The provisions of this law are being phased in over several years. Beginning in 2013, manufacturers are now required to report the concentrations of several metals in brake pads sold in Washington state. Brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2015, may not contain asbestos or certain heavy metals. By 2021, brake pads must contain less than 5% copper.

This law is the result of lengthy negotiations between the braking industry and environmental groups. Both groups support the final outcome, which gives the braking industry adequate time to develop, manufacture, and safety-test new brake pad formulations for the full range of vehicle models and types.

The small amount of copper that is shed from brakes each time they are operated is washed down storm drains and into our streams and rivers, where it is highly toxic to fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and phytoplankton. It is particularly harmful to the sensory systems of threatened and endangered salmon. Copper reduces the ability of young salmon to escape from predators, and it hinders adult salmon from finding their spawning streams. These toxic effects limit the abundance of salmon returning to our fisheries and spawning grounds.

“The main benefit of low-copper brake pads is to keep our river and lake waters free of copper. Studies conducted in California and Washington showed that copper levels are extremely high due to dust created from brake pads that is then washed into the water system. It’s really an environmental benefit rather than an improvement in brake pad formulation,” explains Ramzi Yako, president of Promax Auto Parts Depot.

In general, most disc and drum brakes that are used on licensed motor vehicles are required to comply with the law. However, some brakes designed for use on certain vehicles are exempted from the law. These include brakes used on motorcycles, collector cars, trailers, off-road vehicles, and military combat vehicles.

In the U.S., all brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2015, must be marked on both the pad and its packaging with a registered certification mark that will be designed by the brake manufacturing industry. Brake pads must also be marked with a unique code, commonly called an “edge code,” that ends in a letter indicating the level of environmental compliance followed by the last two digits of the year the product was manufactured. While it’s still unclear when the Canadian market will adopt these new standards, you can expect to see them on your stockroom shelves in the coming year.

If original equipment replacement brakes use the same brake friction material formulation that originally came with a vehicle manufactured before the effective dates in the law, it is exempt from some of the requirements. This is to ensure that consumers have access to the same brake pad that came with the motor vehicle they purchased.

Brake pads manufactured before 2015 containing copper or other regulated constituents may be sold or installed on vehicles normally until January 1, 2025. Brake pads manufactured before 2015 containing copper or other regulated constituents may be sold or installed on vehicles normally until January 1, 2025. Unmarked products may be sold until January 1, 2025. After this date all products must be marked with proof of certification.

Stocking no/low-copper product

For jobbers who are not already stocking low/no-copper pads, you may want to consider offering a low/no-copper product; there are already several companies that are making and selling these pads. However, for many products it can still be difficult to find out which pads have copper or other toxins, and manufacturers may be reluctant to reveal the content of their pads. Jobbers should also be aware that there are companies that advertise their products as environmentally friendly, yet when they are asked, they will tell you their pads do contain copper. Until products are marked, it is best to be cautious and ask manufacturers and suppliers directly if their pads contain copper or other toxic substances.

Federal-Mogul Corporation recently introduced environmentally friendly low-copper brake pads through its Wagner Brake brand. More than one million new 2014 vehicles from leading original equipment light vehicle manufacturers will be equipped with Federal-Mogul’s Eco-Friction pads. “As a leading manufacturer of friction for the total OE and replacement market, we have taken the lead in developing eco-friendly formulations that also provide improvements in overall brake pad performance,” says Martin Hendricks, vice-president and general manager, braking, Federal-Mogul Vehicle Components.

Now featured in Wagner ThermoQuiet Ceramic pads, Federal-Mogul’s new Wagner OE21 low-copper formulations are 35% quieter and offer 15% more stopping power and up to 40% greater fade resistance than previous formulations.

“Xtreme Stop has always been cognizant of the environmental impact of certain heavy metals used in brake pad formulations, due to European standards that have been in place for over a decade, [along with] the forthcoming Phase 2 deadline in 2014 for reduction in copper,” explains Durotech Automotive Industries vice-president Ed Demerci.

“We are reducing the amount of copper used in our formulations for premium brake pads, which will culminate in a sizable reduction of copper content. We are currently testing two formulations with low- and no-copper disc brake pads. Our Positive Mold ceramic formula will have either no copper or very low copper by 2014,” adds Yako.

When it comes to brake systems, jobbers need to focus their efforts on satisfying the client so they can retain their business and gain new business through referrals, and the recent introduction of premium, environmentally friendly low-copper brake products is a way to achieve this.

“New car sales are driven by improved environmental standards and top safety ratings. By emphasizing both the safety features and the eco-friendly features of low copper brake pads, jobbers will find it quite easy to migrate more and more of their business over to this premium-grade product as it becomes more mainstream,” explains Yako.

More alternatives to copper

Phase 2 of the new law limits heavy metals such as cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and asbestiform fibres when tested to SAE J2975 by an independent third-party lab. This happens in 2014 for California, and in 2015 for Washington, and is expected to come into force in the remaining U.S. states, and the Canadian brake marketa nd some time in the future. The new laws further limit copper to less than 5% by weight in Phase 3 on or after January 1, 2021. On January 1, 2025, California will limit copper to 0.5% by weight in Phase 4. That same requirement becomes effective in Washington on January 1, 2032 unless an advisory committee determines that alternative brake friction materials are available.

Friction manufacturers use copper in their formulations for faster curing and better heat dissipation. But as the industry learns more about copper’s effect on the environment, more experimentation is being done to find alternatives to copper. Those safer alternatives include fibreglass, Aramid, and Kevlar fibers.

“New brake pad formulations are developed by understanding the composition of copper and establishing alternative chemical compositions with equal or superior benefits relating to the braking process. Semi-metallic pads use steel fibres in place of the ceramic and copper found in most ceramic pads today. Low-steel brake pads reduce overall dust by up to 50%, [feature] increased longevity, and are eco-friendly so they protect our environment and water systems, and will meet federal legislation as it spreads into Canada,” explains Weber.

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