Automotive industry focuses on plastic composites for the future of electric vehicles

Nantes, French auto parts supplier Faurecia, is focused on reducing the environmental impact of its products, Katie Roco, customer engineering manager at Faurecia, told Plastics News. “We know our customers are also focused on what we can do to improve the environment for future generations.”

This month, Faurecia won the Altair Enlighten Award for Sustainable Process for its NAFI Lean Stiff, a 100 percent recyclable polypropylene compound with a 20 percent content from biological sources.

NAFI Stiff, part of the NAFI Lean (Natural Fiber for Lean Injection Design) product line that incorporates a natural hemp-based fiber with polypropylene, “offers something comparable to a long fiberglass material,” which is less likely to be recyclable, Roco said.

Faurecia recently created a new department to design and manufacture sustainable and intelligent materials, including the NAFI Lean product line, which will work with a portfolio of materials with extremely low and negative carbon emissions through its divisions including interiors and seats to support the automobile manufacturers. Sustainability goals.

According to a press release, the company plans to build its own research and development center for sustainable materials, as well as a pilot plant, both of which will be operational in 2022. The new division will start with 125 engineers and grow to over 400 by 2030.

“The natural fiber reinforcement that we combine with the polypropylene for the final injection material,” says Roco, is only made from part of the hemp plant. “When hemp is grown, it is generally a carbon negative product. It doesn’t need any irrigation or fertilizer. It does not compete with the food chain and the other parts of plants that we do not use for plastic production are “brought back into circulation” in products such as hemp seed oil and animal litter.

“Developing the interface between the natural compound and polypropylene so that we maintain the bond and matrix of materials that give you truly stiff product performance while still offering weight reduction, recyclability and reduced CO2 over the life cycle of the product” was a challenge for developers , she said.

The NAFI Lean product line has been used in instrument panels, center consoles and door panels of 17 series vehicles since 2013.

The composite material enables complex shapes, architectures and weight reduction and can be used in traditional injection molding machines.

Faurecia also wants to make variants of NAFI Lean from recycled materials, Roco said.

NAFI Stiff was introduced on two vehicles in the production of instrument panel beams, usually made from a steel tube often referred to as a vehicle cross member. The product is to be used in a third vehicle in the center console this year, said Roco.

The NAFI Lean materials in Faurecia’s portfolio are cost effective and “can compete with anything on the market for durability and lifespan,” she added.

Suppliers and OEMs “don’t have to compromise on design freedom” when using composites because they have “excellent mechanical properties” for complex parts with features like carpet fasteners that can be made in a one-step process, Parkinson said.

BASF’s partnership with Toyota for the plastic seat in the third row of the Sienna 2021 won the Altair Enlighten Award for vehicle weight savings in 2020.

Usually made from 15 welded steel components, the BASF version of the seat was made as an injection-molded part, Parkinson said.

Although developing sustainable solutions requires investment, by scaling successful processes, successful processes can become “cost neutral with traditional materials,” he said.

“We’re taking plastic waste and turning it into sustainable plastics, not mechanical recycling, but chemical recycling,” said Parkinson. “Even with natural fibers, scaling is really the key to reducing the cost of some of the new solutions.”

“We have the great ambition to be climate neutral by 2030,” said Roco at MBS.

Faurecia plans to achieve this goal by partnering with other suppliers and OEM customers “to communicate and bring solutions to market,” she said. “The customer wants these sustainable solutions in all of his applications.

“All of our products are tested to OEM standards,” including their “cost-per-kilo impact,” which can be higher than traditional materials, Roco said. By saving weight, cost-neutral products can still be delivered to consumers, resulting in better energy savings.

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