News about the bioplastics industry

Bioplastics remain strong in automotive sector

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Toyota uses the renewably sourced polyester DuPontTMSorona®EP to produce e.g. the vent louvers of the Toyota Prius.

‘Lightweighting’ is a hot topic for the automotive industry and the main reason why plastics have continuously been used to substitute heavier materials such as metals. Beyond the benefits of reduced weight, the future lies in choosing the most resource efficient plastics, i.e. bioplastics. This helps to minimise the environmental impact of car production by further reducing CO2 emissions and energy use. Besides these evident advantages, e.g. biobased performance polymers (biobased polyesters/biobased polyamides) feature all the performance criteria important to high quality car components.

Although still in its infancy, the use of biobased materials in the automotive industry has been gradually accelerating over the last few years. (…) biobased plastics are now closer to meeting or exceeding performance and cost parameters of conventional plastics than ever before." (Center of Automotive Research, The Biobased Materials Automotive Value Chain, 2012)

Major converters and car brands adopt bioplastic solutions 

A front-runner in adopting bioplastics is Japanese car manufacturer Toyota which uses bioplastics such as biobased polyesters, biobased PET, and PLA-blends in its production process. Toyota has set the target of replacing 20 percent by weight of all oil-based plastics for cars with bioplastics by 2015. The Toyota SAI and Toyota Prius models already feature a number of bioplastic applications such as headliners, sun visors, or floor mats. Up to 60 percent of the interior fabrics are made of biobased polyesters, which provide mechanical properties equal to or even better than PBT.

Italian manufacturer Fiat is another major player in the automotive industry relying on biobased plastics.

As an example, Fiat used castor oil-derived long chain polyamides to replace their fossil based equivalent in more than one million vehicles; the company plans to further increase this number. Furthermore, in 2011, the use of castor oil-based long chain polyamide in some fuel lines won Fiat and DuPont the Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Innovation Award in the environmental category.2

Besides biobased polyesters and polyamides, biobased PBS converted into a high performance natural fibre composite is another upcoming material relevant to the automotive market.

Biobased PBS is made of bio-succinic acid and 1,4-butanediol (BDO). It features an interesting thermal-mechanical balance of properties close to that of a polyolefin; it is easy to process and has good affinity with cellulosic fibres. Since biobased BDO will also be available shortly, biobased PBS will soon be 100 percent sourced from renewable feedstock.

Faurecia and Mitsubishi Chemical have announced a joint programme for developing a bioplastic based on biobased PBS that can be used in mass-production for automotive interior parts, such as door panels, trim and strip, structural instrument panels, air ducts, door panel and console inserts.

The project builds on several years of research and development carried out jointly with US-based BioAmber, who will be supplying the bio-succinic acid to Faurencia and Mitsubishi Chemical. The resulting bioplastic will be a natural fibre composite called BioMat.

Nicolas Pechnyk, Vice President of Engineering at Faurecia Interior Systems explains: “This strategic agreement with Mitsubishi Chemicals will make Faurecia the first automotive equipment supplier to mass produce a 100 percent biobased plastic.” 3

In short: Bioplastics are mature materials combining technical and environmental performance and are suitable for a large number of automotive applications.

Source: European Bioplastics

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