The automotive industry is increasingly more dependent on plastic. During the last decades, the companies replaced the metal parts for plastic parts because they are lightweight, cheaper and because they are easily molded.
A short history of bioplastics in the automotive industry
Bioplastics were first used in the automotive industry in the 1930s. The pioneer was Henry Ford, who experimented with bioplastics automotive parts made of soy. They later desisted because fossil-fuel-based plastic became more available, cheaper, and easier to work with at that time.
Nowadays, the commercial leader in using bioplastic parts in the automotive industry is Japanese car manufacturer Toyota. They were the first to hit a goal to have 20% of all plastic components made from bioplastics by 2015. Some of their cars use up to 60% of interior textiles made of bioplastics.
In 2018, a team of 22 students from the Eindhoven University of Technology created a city car only using bioplastic parts, and no synthetic plastic was used. They named the car Noah, it is ultra-light, electrically-powered prototype based on flax fiber and sugar, it weighs approximately half of the weight of a regular vehicle (1).
Current situation and developments
Currently, around 20% of the total weight of an automobile consists of polymeric materials, depending on the specific model of the car that can be between 100-150 kilograms of plastic parts (2).
But because of the environmental issues, pressure from the public and from private organizations, new regulations for controlling greenhouse emissions, and more, the automotive companies are experimenting, adapting, and developing more eco-friendly plastic materials for the latest models of the cars.
Benefits of bioplastics in the automotive industry
By switching to bioplastic materials, the automotive industry will reduce its dependence on scarce fossil resources, and instead start using renewable resources like second-generation feedstock. The prices of fossil fuels have fluctuated a lot, and the cost of the bioplastics have been more predictable.
Moreover, one of the goals of innovation in the industry is to reduce the weight of a vehicle to reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and bioplastics that can help lower the weight of modern vehicles.
Bioplastics used in the automotive industry
Biopolyamides (Bio-PA) are thermoplastics that have great properties like high strength and stiffness, good heat resistance, fire resistance, and other properties. PA is most commonly made from castor oils and sugar cane, and it is used in many applications like connectors, brake noses, fuel lines, and flexible tubing.
Polylactic Acid (PLA) is one of the newest bioplastics used in the automotive industry, as before it was mostly used in medicine. It is produced by fermentation of sugar derived from sugar beet, sugarcane, or corn. And it is best suitable for interior accessories like mats, carpeting, and upholstery or tires and consoles.
Bio-based polypropylene (Bio-PP) is produced from sugarcane, and the resin used in the production is certified as 100% renewable. Bio-PP can be implemented to substitute synthetic plastics in the production of bumpers, lateral siding, roof/boot spoilers, rocker panels, body panels; dashboards, door pockets and panels, consoles; ventilation, air conditioning, battery covers, air ducts, pressure vessels, splash shields, etc.