The automotive sector is on the cusp of complete revolution. UK sales of new petrol and diesel cars will end by 2030 and all new cars and vans will be fully zero emission at the tailpipe from 2035. It is the true end of an era after 160 years of combustion engines, and it will be bittersweet to bid farewell to the enchanting fumes and thrilling roar of a good old petrol engine fresh off the manufacturing line. But of course, the drive for this transition is imperative; the impact of vehicle pollution on global warming is severe. Tackling carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions to improve air quality has been a top priority for the Department for Transport in recent years.
The future? Electric vehicles. Autonomous, connected, updateable – the rise of electric vehicles is largely down to the incredible advancements in technology and materials that we have been witness to since the turn of the century. Now far safer, sleeker and more sustainable than when they were first innovated in the 1800s, electric plug-in cars accounted for more than 10 per cent of UK car sales in 2020.
Plastic plays a vital role in the success of modern-day vehicles (both combustion and electric). Plastic components make up one third of the components in a standard combustion engine vehicle (around 10,000), with that proportion being even more significant in their electric cousins. Automotive polymer usage includes battery cases, seat belts, fuel lines, bumpers, dashboards, air bags, lighting, switches, air conditioning housing, electrics, and much, much more. There are approximately 40 different types of basic plastics and polymers used in automotive manufacturing, with polypropylene, polyurethane, polyamides and PVC making up around 70% of all plastics used. Plastic has fast become the material of choice in the automotive sector.
Base polymers like the aforementioned are incredibly useful; however, the real magic happens when additives are introduced. We like to think of polymer additives as the 'special effects' of the plastic world. Additives give plastic superhero powers in order to produce practical, innovative and sustainable plastic products. It goes without saying that this is of huge importance in the automotive sector.
In both combustion and electric vehicles, plastics are subjected to various extreme conditions that can potentially cause degradation: light, heat, stress and strain, chemicals, human interference etc. In order to stabilise and even further improve the properties and longevity of automotive plastic components, a huge range of polymer additives can be applied with incredible results.
Examples of this are as follows: UV stabilisers prevent UV degradation for components which are exposed to light; antioxidants prevent oxidation which can weaken plastic; heat stabilisers prevent the damage that heat can cause; antistatics reduce the charge of plastic and possible risk of shock; laser marking additives enable the industrial marking of plastic parts for identification purposes; anti-scratch additives reduce the risk of scratching (particularly for automotive interiors); and of course, colour can be compounded into plastic to improve design and safety features.
Becoming increasingly popular, partly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, are anti-microbial additives for high-touch areas such as handles, steering wheels, switches and carpets. These additives help to reduce and kill harmful bacteria, viruses and other microbes that are easily transmitted by touch. This rise of technology in this field shows that no matter what requirements are demanded of polymer materials; they can rise to the challenge.
Of course, the stringent regulatory requirements and approval processes in the automotive sector also pose a challenge. Materials must comply with international and local directives and legislation to guarantee user, public and environmental safety. Polymer materials and manufacturing partners should be well versed in this area.
Matrix Plastics Ltd is a polymer compound and masterbatch specialist based in Berkshire, UK. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Matrix provide the latest in additive solutions, as well as industry leading colour match, R&D and packaging services.
Explore the rest of British Plastics & Rubber's April issue here: https://interplasinsights.com/latest-issues/british-plastics-and-rubber-magazine/bp-r-april-2021/