Corrected: Plastics now 10% of the weight of autos and growing – SABIC VP

10 April 2013 22:18  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS story headlined “Plastics now 10% of the weight of autos and growing – SABIC VP” dated 10 April 2013, please read in the 14th paragraph … for the side and back windows. … instead of … and can be used on the interior of the front windshield …. A corrected story follows.

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Plastics such as polycarbonate (PC) now account for about 10% of the total weight of an automobile, and as automakers look for new ways to improve fuel economy, that figure is only expected to grow, a SABIC executive said on Wednesday.

This is not a new business for companies like SABIC. As automakers try to reduce the weight of vehicles, they have increasingly looked for plastics to replace parts that used to be metal.

As a result, the American Chemistry Council estimates that each automobile contains an average of $3,297 (€2,505) worth of chemicals, such as acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), nylon, PC and others.

One area of new growth will be hybrid vehicles, said Greg Adams, a vice president in SABIC’s Innovative Plastics business, who was a long-time executive with General Electric’s plastics business before it was acquired by SABIC in 2007.

“Applications where plastics can grow are certainly going to increase as the industry transitions from the internal combustion engine to hybrid technology,” Adams said. “Hybrid powertrains with batteries offer a whole new set of components that have plastics in them. And we see that growing.”

One example of how petrochemicals will benefit from the growth of hybrid vehicles is the Nissan Leaf, Adams said. SABIC supplied lightweight Noryl resin, an injection-moldable blend of an unfilled polyphenylene ether (PPE) and polystyrene (PS) for the Leaf’s battery terminal cover and spacers for the battery system.

As a result of this and other innovations, the newest version of the Leaf – the world’s best-selling electric vehicle – is 176 lb lighter.

Another potential growth area is windows.                    

“We believe that a polycarbonate window can reduce the weight versus glass from 30-50%,” Adams said. “This is especially true when you look at a rear lift gate on, say, an SUV.”

Adams noted that a modern lift gate often includes a spoiler, a brake light, as well as gas shocks.

“A lot of those components can now be consolidated and molded into a single piece, sometimes taking out weight, sometimes adding functionality,” he said.

Another big automotive project for SABIC was the Volkswagen XL1, the German automaker’s new plug-in hybrid. The XL1’s side windows are made of lightweight Lexan PC with Exatec plasma coating.

Lexan PC has long been used for the front lens on the headlights, Adams noted. But for Lexan to work in windows, the company spent 10 years developing Exatec, its new scratch-resistant coating.

As a result, PC has been approved for the side and back windows. But it is only a matter of time before PC is approved for use in the whole windshield, Adams said.

“As we look at these windows today, I would draw an analogy to headlamps,” he said “With the availability of new technologies such as scratch-resistant polycarbonate, it will enable designers to have more styling freedom.”

SABIC also has a line of heat-resistant plastics made from ABS and other materials that are now being used under the hood. For instance, for many years intake blowers and manifolds were made of steel. With the development of new resins that can withstand the heat generated by the engine, most of those parts are now made of plastic.

Another specialty use includes plastics for wire coating, which may not seem like a significant development until you think about the evolution of entertainment and navigation systems. As the wiring bundle on the standard car has become thinner, wire coatings have allowed automakers to fit more wires through channels in the chassis and body.

These kinds of innovations are taking place all across the automotive platform.

For instance, steering wheels are a steel plate with a dye-cast armature that is covered with some sort of plastic polymer and perhaps leather. SABIC is currently working on a new steering wheel that is made entirely from cold-temperature Lexan.

“All of this enables our engineers to rethink how a part gets made,” Adams said.

($1 = €0.76)

By: Mark Yost
+1 713 525 2653

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