More Plastic Makes for Enhanced Sustainability in Automobiles

The transportation sector accounted for 28% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2018 according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is more than any other sector including electricity generation (27%) and industry (22%). As such, reducing carbon dioxide discharges from this sector are seen as critical if global targets are to be met.

Belgium’s EconCore, a developer of lightweight thermoplastic honeycomb core technology already employed it in transport applications. The company’s latest offering is a honeycomb based on recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) recovered from bottles and food packaging. An rPET honeycomb sandwich panel outperforms polypropylene (PP) honeycombs both in terms of temperature and strength performance.

Several companies, including Lyondell Basell and Neste, and Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals, are developing technologies for production of PP based on renewable hydrocarbons and while initial deployment may be in packaging and other non-auto applications automakers will be clamouring for such materials to boost their green credentials.

In terms of fiber reinforcement, natural kenaf fibers have long been used in auto applications, mainly by Toyota. Not part of the food chain, kenaf is a member of the hibiscus family and is found in regions such as Southeast Asia, Bangladesh, India and Africa. Most recently, Tier 1 Toyota Boshoku teamed up with Covestro to develop a kenaf fiber-reinforced polyurethane composite material for door trim in the new LQ electric concept car developed by Toyota.

Any credible car of the future surely needs to incorporate a higher degree of sustainability to resonate in an increasingly environmentally-aware market, and that is going to mean more plastics not less.

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