The speed with which the automotive industry is transitioning from internal combustion engines to battery power is breathtaking. We caught up with one of the industry’s leading suppliers of thermoplastics for an update and outlook on what is to come.
DuPont (Wilmington, Delaware) has been a supplier to the automotive industry for more than 100 years, so the company has had experience with managing change. But even its experts agree that the pace of change in today’s industry is unprecedented. “Our customers face tremendous challenges. Many need to balance their ability to continue developing their established range of ICE-powered vehicles, and at the same time rapidly develop applications for battery or hybrid electric vehicles,” notes Giacomo Parisi, marketing director for advanced mobility, referring to cars with internal combustion engines. “We believe we are in a great position to support as we know the industry so well, and that earned trust leads to open dialogue with customers about their challenges.”
Automotive OEMs incorporate a holistic mix of tactics to achieve their sustainability goals. One way is selecting materials with an environmentally-friendly footprint, such as bio-sourced materials or ones with high flow characteristics that help shorten cycle times and thus reduce energy costs.
A second path is to focus on the environmental footprint of the end application and improve this with the benefit of plastics’ properties such as weight reduction and the ability to design for parts’ consolidation.
But perhaps no change will have as great a sustainable impact as the transition to more battery-powered vehicles. A typical passenger car emits about 4.6 tonnes of CO2 annually, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Most electric vehicles emit no exhaust.
Steam-Powered Factory and Bio-Feedstock
DuPont says it is working on solutions to support customers regardless of which path they take to improved sustainability. One example from the company of a recently developed sustainable solution for automotive and other applications is Delrin Renewable Attributed, the most recent addition to the company’s established range of Delrin polyacetal grades. Andreas Zöller, global product manager for Delrin, explains that the base polymer is manufactured using 100% bio-feedstock from waste, and is accredited through the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC Plus) mass balance certification system. The bio-feedstock is supplied from second-generation sources not in competition with the food and feed chain. Taking it a step further, the facility where the base polymer is produced, in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, is powered with steam derived from energy recovery.
The new material clearly has a pedigree that supports automotive parts manufacturers' goals for improved sustainability. In addition, notes Zöller, it is a drop-in transition for manufacturers already specifying the company’s other polyacetal grades.
Automotive parts suppliers are keen to process more sustainable solutions, explains Laurent Lefebvre, automotive marketing director, but these solutions usually need to fit, easily, into established processes. “The industry is developing at such a rapid pace, and our customers are continuing to optimize their older lines while also investing in capacity for new BEV-related applications,” he notes. As a result, manufacturers prefer drop-in solutions that do not require extensive testing or new investment. For Delrin Renewable Attributed, typical applications in automotive include gears, seatbelt systems, moving parts within doors, and fasteners and clips.