Automotive light weighting: driving the revolution

By 2020 and 2025, European OEM’s must reduce average fleet tailpipe emissions to below 95g of CO2/ km and then 75g of CO2/km.
By 2020 and 2025, European OEM’s must reduce average fleet tailpipe emissions to below 95g of CO2/ km and then 75g of CO2/km.

Sajid Mohammed, Associate Commercial Director at plastics recycler Luxus, looks at how automotive light weighting is helping drive a step-change in plastics innovation.

With government legislation putting automotive manufacturers on a deadline to improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions, light weighting materials technology is now taking major steps forward to help meet this challenge.

Yet vehicle weight has actually been increasing as OEMs continuously add car features, so reversing this growing weight spiral has become an urgent priority. Over the past 15 years, cars have not become lighter, but are instead typically 30% heavier.

By 2020 and 2025, European OEM’s must reduce average fleet tailpipe emissions to below 95g of CO2/ km and then 75g of CO2/km. If they fail to meet these targets the consequences could be catastrophic, leading to hefty fines based on each car produced.

The increasing adoption of plastics has helped to offer the solution to reduce weight without compromising the safety and comfort features that have been responsible for this upward spiral.

The challenge for plastics compounders is still therefore, how to produce ultra-lightweight, strong, rigid and yet sustainable thermoplastic high performance materials and make the process reliable and repeatable on a mass scale.

This technology isn’t new, but the problem of how to upscale it for mass production must be solved.

Lincolnshire-based technical compounder Luxus, has a 15-year pedigree in the delivery of thermoplastic grades for the auto interior trim market.

Luxus Factory
Lincolnshire-based technical compounder Luxus, has a 15-year pedigree in the delivery of thermoplastic grades for the auto interior trim market.

Yet, in the development of its next generation thermoplastics grade Hycolene, it required a new approach. It needed to make a necessary step-change in performance and production capacity to meet increasingly stringent specifications.

Eco-Innovation funded project – Recyclite

As a result, Luxus established a new consortium cofounded by €1.4m Eco-Innovation project in early 2015.

Its aim was to commercialise its Hycolen range of lightweight and scratch resistant compounds with improved life cycle analysis performance – for Class ‘A’ auto interior trim applications.

The commercialisation project known as Recyclite will complete in June this year.

It is co-funded through the EU’s Competitive and Innovation (CIP) programme and includes partners – automotive manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover, a Tier One moulder, International Automotive Components (IAC) and compounding system manufacturer, Coperion.

The project aims to help the European automotive industry to increase its uptake of recycled materials to meet emissions and ‘end of life’ vehicle legislation.

Sajid Mohammed, associate commercial director, Luxus.
Sajid Mohammed, associate commercial director, Luxus.

Sajid Mohammed, associate commercial director at Luxus said, “It’s great that the commercial potential of Hycolene has been recognised by the EU.

“This investment will enable us to make a fundamental step change in our technology, as we aim to replace our filled compounds with next generation reinforcing additives.

“These additives offer excellent tensile properties that don’t detract from the appearance of the moulded compound, yet their adoption reduces weight by up to 12% and significantly improves scratch resistance too.”

Jaguar Land Rover’s role in the project covers the requirements of the material performance, weight reduction and its contribution to emissions reduction.

Rob Crow, group leader of Materials Innovation, Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Advanced lightweight technology has been a crucial element of our strategy since we launched the all-aluminium Jaguar XJ in 2003.”

“Looking forward we are now exploring how we can save even more weight because every gram that can be lost will be lost – as our vehicles become even more ruthlessly efficient.”

In the same 15 year period, unlike some of its contemporaries, Jaguar Land Rover has helped to reverse the industry’s increasing weight spiral though its advanced lightweight strategy.

Luxus PQ - April 2016The current Range Rover is a good example of this, where making the change to aluminium has facilitated a 400kg weight reduction over the previous steel bodied generation – 200kg in body and another 200kg through weight saving including powertrain components.

This same drive for light-weighting is the reason for this collaboration with Luxus too. The project’s focus on delivering a recycled content thermoplastics PP to provide a high performance, yet ultra-lightweight solution able to meet decorative quality demands of interior components presents another step forward for the automotive industry.

Lower density

The EU funding has also enabled Luxus to invest in a new twin-screw co-rotating extruder from Coperion, which is being used to scale up the production of Hycolene to make commercial quantities.

Its unique screw configuration and feed system are critical to the project’s success. This technology reduces the risk of fibre breakage so the mechanical properties of the product can be maximised when introducing next generation additives to the base polymer.

The first commercial trials took place at moulder IAC’s Lincolnshire plant recently. They showed that the scratch performance of Hycolene had significantly improved on the current product, essential for a quality finish in the cabin.

It also produced a rapid cycle time, delivering moulders a substantial saving of up to 12% – as more parts per tonne can be processed, a successful step forward.

Future

Sajid Mohammed, continued, “Our aim is to change an industry mind-set by developing compounds that deliver ultra-lightweight components, which help improve life cycle analysis performance.

“This is achieved by adding a recycled content, creating an economically viable alternative to traditional prime compounds. For each tonne of Hycolene manufactured, it produces up to 30% less CO2 than its virgin alternatives.

“So if you want to reduce the environmental impacts of your products – you need to invest in next generation materials.”