Reducing CO2 emission and fuel consumption by decreasing a vehicle’s weight is the most significant objective and foremost challenge of the automotive industry today. Bio materials are heralding as a well-matched to contribute towards this goal. Therefore, leading automotive companies and suppliers around the globe are increasingly using bio-plastics such as bio-based polyesters and bio-based poly-amides, with an objective to significantly reduce environmental impact of their product.
With the emergence of lightweight trend, plastics have been continuously used to substitute heavier materials or metals in vehicles. As of now, the automotive industry has escaped the scrutiny over plastic pollution, while scientists and researchers are looking for an alternative to conventional plastics. Consequently, automotive companies are inclining to bio-plastic with an aim to stay ahead of the curve in the era of green technologies.
Bio-based plastics comprise of varied range of materials such as mass commodity plastics – polyethylene terephthalate (PET) & bio-based polyethylene (PE), bio-based technical performance polymers – thermoplastic copolyester elastomers (TPC-ET) & polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT), and plastics that are both bio-based and biodegradable – polybutylene succinates (PBS). Availability of wide range of products along with strong focus lighweighting and weigh reduction in the automotive sector will play an instrumental role in the automotive bioplastic market,
Automotive Industry Counting on Renewable Substitutes
The future and benefits of reduced vehicle weight are largely dependent on choosing the most resource-efficient plastics. Bio-based plastics contribute to lowering environmental impact of vehicle production by reducing energy usage as well as CO2 emissions. Moreover, materials such as bio-based polyamides or bio-based polyesters feature improved performance criteria which help produce high-quality car components. Furthermore, bio-based PBS is made of 1.4-butanediol (BDO) and bio-succinic acid that showcase thermal-mechanical balance of properties, similar to polyolefin which has good affinity with cellulosic fiber and easy to process. Since 2018, studies have revealed that bio-based PBS can be 100% sourced from renewable feed stock.
Significantly influenced by high-performance natural-fiber composite quotient, bio-based PBS is emerging as the relevant material to reduce vehicle weight. For instance, Mitsubishi Chemicals’ Durabio is a partially bio-based engineering plastic made from plant-based isosorbide presenting higher resistance to weather and heat as compared to conventional engineering plastics. It is particularly designed for specific applications that require visual appearance and durable transparency with chemical inertness and impact and scratch resistance.
Renault became the first European automaker to choose Durabio in August, 2016. The bio-based engineering plastic is used for the dashboard of Renault Clio. Additionally, Mercedes-Benz A-class uses DSM’s EcoPaXX Q-HGM24, a bio-based polyamide derived from castor oil plants for their engine cover. This material provides high melting point to tolerate high temperatures, low moisture absorption, high crystallization rate, good chemical resistance, and great aesthetics.
Automotive Bioplastics: Electric Vehicles Lead the First Wave of Growth
As global focus on reducing CO2 emissions grows strong, use of bioplastic over recycled plastics in vehicle manufacturing is gaining pace, especially in out-of-sight parts such as bonnet components contributing to relatively low proportion of total vehicle weight. For instance, KIA Soul EV uses bio-plastics to develop different interior parts such as seat trims, door latch, and the carpet rather than using recycled plastics. Strategies of other automakers such as Toyota, BMW, and Nissan are similar to prevalent status-quo. These companies are reducing the usage of conventional plastic in their vehicles, while leveraging bio-based variants.
Lighter vehicles require less energy to move. As a result, EV manufacturers are on the quest for lighter, non-structural materials. Some of the recently developed bio-plastics are lighter that help in lowering the total weight of the vehicle. These factors played a pivotal role in the UK manufacturer Lexus’ decision to develop new material, Hycolene, which is used to make interior parts 10-12 % lighter than its virgin plastic equivalents. In addition, Benecke-Kaliko uses TEPEO, an interior foil which is around 50% lighter than PVC. It brings down the car weight by 2kgs and produces 48% less CO2 over its entire lifecycle as compared to PVC foil.
Future of Plastic Lies in Reinvention as Bio-plastic
The amount of plastic human produce has reached an unprecedented level. On the top of environmental repercussions of the production process, most plastic products are non-recyclable. As the rate of plastic waste in landfills and ocean continues to be on an upswing, governments and industry operators are rigorously looking for better alternatives. In the automotive industry, the future of plastic lies not in its complete demise, but in its reinvention as bioplastics. Nissan is one such company that seeks to eliminate all plastic waste of a vehicle, from design to disposal. It manufactured an EV, popularly known as Nissan Leaf, of which 25% of the part is manufactured from recycled products. Resins made from recycled plastics are used to make larger components such as door parts and dash. Moreover, recycled materials represent an integral part of EV manufacturers’ plans to improve vehicle sustainability.