Polymers have been increasingly important in the automotive sector in recent years. Polymers are the most crucial resources for building a high-performance, compact, fuel-efficient, reliable, and cost-effective automobile.
A modern automobile seems to have more than 100 kg of plastics, but a car from the early 1960s contained a little plastic. The automotive industry is the third-largest consumer of polymers. Plastics satisfy all the automotive requirements such as,
- High specific mechanical attributes,
- Temperature, and chemical stability,
- Easy dimensional stability,
- Relatively low cost, and
Electrical vehicle manufacturers are redefining the usage of polymers in the automobile industry in this modern era, thanks to those polymers that address the difficulties of digital advancements. Some of the properties of polymers are much more significant than ever. These include noise and vibration damping, as well as weight reduction. These are the benefits of molding parts with complex geometry or multi-functional integration.
Increased demand for automobiles will drive plastic demand in the automotive market. Simultaneously, it causes emerging economies’ disposable income to rise. While some polymers may profit from recent changes in the vehicle sector, others may see a drop in market share.
As a result, Plastic producers globally, including those in the Gulf Cooperation Council, may face significant challenges. On the other hand, carbon emissions are a source of pollution in the environment. The fossil fuel industry, which is directly related to an increase in plastics manufacture, is the primary source of carbon emissions. Therefore, there is an immense impact on the plastic production industry and market suppliers.
Finally, polymers will play a role in next-generation batteries as membrane surfaces, isolators, electrolytes, and electrode compounds, a field in which extensive research is underway. Polymers, without a doubt, can meet the ever-increasing demands of the reconfigured vehicle market. In this article, we will have an insight into the future of polymers in future electric and autonomous vehicles.
Marketing Trends and Challenges on Automotive Polymers:
The global automotive polymers market for passenger cars is about to grow at a CAGR of 7.9% from 2021 to 2026, from USD 21.1 billion in 2021 to USD 30.8 billion in 2026. Higher weight reduction potential, a significant decrease in carbon emissions, and enhanced engine technology and aesthetics are the key factors driving the growth of the automotive plastics market for passenger automobiles.
The epidemic of COVID-19 has caused chaos in the global automotive supply chain. Not just did the manufacturing and business industries collapse as a result of global lockdowns, but the entire automotive sector was also impacted, resulting in an uncertain recovery period. Lack of car parts, a drop in new vehicle sales, the closure of production facilities, and a fall in working capital are all critical challenges in the automobile industry.
According to the OICA (The Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d’Automobiles, commonly abbreviated OICA & English: International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers), global passenger car sales might fall by -15.9% in 2020, from 63.7 million units in 2019 to 53.6 million units in 2020.
This pandemic impacted the passenger vehicle plastics business, which in turn reliant on passenger car sales.
Global Production Of Automobiles
On a more positive note, the market began to show signs of recovery in April 2020 due to successful containment efforts, giving big manufacturers a lifeline. The comparatively high cost of capital and infrastructure required for plastics re-engineering is one of the biggest challenges.
The significant barriers to the re-engineering are
- manufacturers’ lack of understanding of the importance of recycling these plastics
- Lack of infrastructure. Furthermore, there is a knowledge gap about the recyclability of particular plastic types utilized in component design from the standpoint of component manufacturers.
Role of Automotive Polymers in Passenger Cars:
Polypropylene (PP), polyurethane, and PVC are the most prevalent plastics used in a typical car. In terms of volume, the PP segment held the higher market share by product type in 2020. Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer that may be easily molded into practically any shape.
Polypropylene is widely used in passenger vehicles for interior, exterior, and under-the-hood components. Design engineers prefer polypropylene over other plastics because it is a commodity plastic that is less expensive than other engineered polymers. Polypropylene is commonly used to meet the low-cost vehicle design need of engineers. Because of these factors, PP has a considerable proportion of the automotive plastics industry for passenger automobiles.
Plastics in Car interior
Electric vehicles produce less heat than vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. So, a wider spectrum of commodity plastics (such as polypropylene) could be used instead of expensive engineering plastics (e.g., polyamides).
Headlamps in self-driving cars will incorporate electronics and sensors, such as lidars, radars, and cameras, in addition to being a light source, paving the way for sophisticated polymers capable of ensuring optical performance and heat management.
Plastics in Car Chasis
Polymeric materials could prevent the multiple waves radiated by sensors from being affected by a barrier element (the so-called ghost effect), making them a good choice for covering and hiding unappealing sensors without obstructing radars.
Automotive cockpits could be provided with big touchscreens and smart surfaces displaying graphics thanks to transparent materials like polycarbonate, a potential contender for substituting glass in windows and windscreens.
Furthermore, electroactive polymers, such as polyvinylidene fluoride and potentially piezoelectric polylactic acid, could radically transform acoustic speaker systems by incorporating vibrating surfaces in control panels or rear seats that act as resonance chambers.
Plastic Cars in Future
Recent Developments in Automotive Polymers:
- Covestro AG introduced a new recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (rPET) product in May 2021. The recycled PET has indeed been modified to make 3D pellets. This methodology, often referred to as fused granulate fabrication (FGF), enables the additive production of large-scale items quickly and cost-effectively. This seems to have applications in the automotive sector, where small interior parts are manufactured.
- DuPont announced the acquisition of Laird Performance Materials (China) for USD 2.3 billion in March 2021, with the funds coming from current cash reserves. Subject to regulatory clearances and other usual closing conditions, the transaction is scheduled to close in the third quarter of 2021. With a comprehensive supply of performance components and solutions that manage heat and protect equipment from electromagnetic interference for smart and autonomous vehicles, Laird Performance Materials is a world leader in high-performance electromagnetic shielding and thermal management.
- Celanese Corporation announced in March 2021 that it would begin a three-year strategy to build engineered materials compounding capacities at its Asia facilities, including those in Nanjing, China; Suzhou, China; and Silvassa, India, to promote the company’s significant engineered materials business growth.
Impact of the increasing popularity of Electric vehicles in the Polymer industry
The electrically operated road automobiles have become an important aspect to consider while analyzing the automotive projection and related polymer demand. Although the worldwide number of electric vehicles (EVs) is declining, the electrification of passenger vehicles has gained traction in recent years.
Due to government incentives and changing customer expectations, the automobile industry is developing a wide range of affordable electric models. As the market for electric vehicles grows, the use of polycarbonate (PC) might increase since sensors and LEDs in automobiles use PC.
The manufacturers are striving to reduce costs and weight, so the use of polymer components in engine transmissions will become more prevalent. However, synthetic polymers will be compensated by the industry’s emphasis on lightweighting, which results in smaller components. Another increasing trend in electric vehicles is battery pack simplicity, which will allow EVs to compete with vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.
The battery pack’s structure is made up of sophisticated polymers and composites, making it lightweight. Lightweight materials are utilized to increase the engine’s pulling capability because electric vehicles have low-power engines. As a result, the rising demand for electric cars (EVs) creates an expansion potential for the automotive plastics market.
Polymers in Electric Vehicle Batteries
Overall, the use of a polymer in the Electric Vehicle industry is projected to rise. The type of plastic, its use in automobiles, interpolymer replacement, and recycling activities in various nations will all influence the rate of increase. Demand for plastics such as PP, PE, PC, and PE is likely to expand as electric vehicles become more common, but demand for technical plastics is expected to decline.
The high-temperature performance of most engineering plastics is not necessary for electric battery components, fuel systems, or other required ICE parts, therefore they emerge as “losers.