Auto Plastics’ Future Is in Biomaterials and Nanotechnology
IMT Staff posted on September 18, 2014 | 7508 views

thomasnet, auto, bioplastics, plasticThe global automotive plastics industry is experiencing strong growth. A recent Grand View Research report predicts the auto plastics market will reach $41.5 billion by 2020. The boom is due to a combination of increased global demand for autos, the need for lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicles that meet regulations such as the U.S. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE), and breakthroughs in material science.

Engineering thermoplastics continue to achieve market advances, including the prevalence of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) and other new materials that were formerly feasible only in very high-end cars. The automotive plastics industry is not sitting still, as it recognizes there are additional opportunities via newer materials that can further decrease weight, improve vehicle styling and performance, and comply with environmental regulations.

In April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that “automakers are off to a good start” with CAFE requirements that need to be satisfied by 2025. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that auto manufacturers will average fleets of 34 miles per gallon in 2014. This number, while impressive, is still far from the 54.5 mpg automakers must achieve according to CAFE standards.

Tomorrow’s engineering plastics will need to be even stronger, more lightweight, and able to withstand higher temperatures. Grand View Research’s senior research analyst, Anshuman Bahuguna, told ThomasNet News that the materials used in previous generations of cars simply can’t stand the heat today.

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“Super-engineered  thermoplastics such as PEEK (polyether ether ketone), PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate), and TPV (thermoplastic vulcanizates)/TPO [thermoplastic olefins) will have a role to play, since they have been shown to offer consistent performance in more extreme operating conditions,” he said.

Bioplastics are also on the auto industry’s materials navigation map. DuPont Performance Polymers introduced the first engineering-grade biopolymers in 2006, and the company says it plans to expand its portfolio of sustainable, bio-based materials where it is technically feasible and economically sustainable.

The company’s Sorona EP product contains between 20 and 37 percent renewable material while offering performance similar to conventional polybutylene terephthalate (PBT). Its Hytrel RS thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) contain between 35 and 65 percent renewably sourced material while providing strength, toughness, and flexibility to hoses and tubes. Much of the renewable content in these material lines is sourced from sebacic acid, a non-food biomass that is made from castor oil.

While the renewable nature of bioplastics may be appealing, the materials may not always lead directly to the goal of weight reduction in vehicles. Some bioplastics actually have higher material densities than traditional petroleum-based plastics, as demonstrated by seat foams and upholstery made from soy-based materials that are beginning to show up in some European vehicles. For this reason, many automakers looking for sustainable alternatives to traditional plastics are embracing natural-fiber-reinforced plastics, which offer a 5 to 15 percent weight reduction.

According to Earl Bloom, vice president of Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Continental Structural Plastics, advances in joining techniques as well as in materials are allowing metal and non-metal materials to be used alongside one another in places that were inconceivable before. This permits automakers to mix and match ideal components while streamlining production.

“Advanced composite materials like TCA (Tough Class A) sheet molding compound can often be painted alongside metal parts at the vehicle assembly plants, which is ideal for the overall vehicle production process,” Bloom told ThomasNet News.

There’s more to automotive bioplastics than weight and sustainable raw materials, however. The “new car smell,” while desirable to consumers, is the result of volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde escaping from newly produced plastics. In response to the health risks these VOCs pose, some manufacturers are pursuing less toxic materials, and that road has often led to bioplastics.

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This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends

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