International Congress Plastics in Automotive Engineering

Sustainable materials for the cars of the future


Dipl.-Ing. Annedore Bose-Munde

| Translated by AI

5 min Reading Time

The VDI Knowledge Forum is hosting the international specialist congress PIAE (Plastics in Automotive Engineering) in Mannheim from 19 to 20 June 2024. Visitors to the industry can expect over 60 expert lectures, 80 national and international specialist exhibitors as well as the car salon. A special focus this year is on the circular economy and the use of recyclates.

A highlight and practical example of the use of sustainable materials and the use of recyclates will be the show car based on the Škoda Enyaq, which will be on display at the PIAE in Mannheim.
A highlight and practical example of the use of sustainable materials and the use of recyclates will be the show car based on the Škoda Enyaq, which will be on display at the PIAE in Mannheim.

(Image: Skoda)

The international specialist Congress PIAE (Plastics in Automotive Engineering) is an important platform for the exchange of knowledge for both plastic and automotive experts. “An automobile without high-quality technical plastics is no longer conceivable. Plastic properties, such as low density, durability, surface and shaping possibilities, but also insulation or damping effects, are what make economical automobile construction possible in the first place,” says Congress leader Thomas Drescher, head of pre-development and vehicle evaluation in the floor system at Volkswagen AG in Wolfsburg, pointing out the importance of the material.

In my opinion, the establishment of this circular economy is the greatest challenge for the plastics industry in the coming years.

Thomas Drescher

However, the idea of sustainability also requires the creation of cycles for high-quality plastics. Therefore, recyclers, process engineers, raw material and component developers are now being called upon to develop cycles for these valuable materials. “We are still at the beginning and need further economical sorting and processing techniques to ensure the required consistent quality of the technical plastic recyclates. Building up this circular economy is, in my opinion, the biggest challenge for the plastic industry in the coming years,” says Drescher.

Climate change is affecting us all. So, we must do something to reduce the impacts of the CO2 footprint, for example, by using sustainable materials.

Dalibor Kopáč

Sustainable materials in practical use.

The show car based on the Škoda Enyaq will demonstrate the use of sustainable materials and the application of recycled materials.

“Climate change affects us all. So we have to do something to reduce the effects of the CO2 footprint, for example by using sustainable materials,” says Dalibor Kopáč, development engineer in the field of corrosion, free weathering, material development at Škoda Auto a.s. in Mladá Boleslav/Czech Republic. In his contribution to the PIAE, he will describe the use of recycled materials for parts for which this was previously not possible using the example of a show car. “What is new is the much wider use of sustainable materials in the vehicle. These are primarily recycled plastics with a focus on post-consumer recyclates, mono materials and closed-loop applications. This sustainability approach is used for about 20 parts, for example for bumpers, seat covers, door panels, the headliner or the tailgate,” Kopáč gives a preview.

The main potential of the sustainability approach clearly lies in reducing resource consumption for the production of plastics and in using waste or already used material. “But we are also preparing for future legal requirements of the EU End-of-Life Vehicle Directive,” says Kopáč.

Challenges and Opportunities for the Circular Economy

The EU Commission has revised the existing rules for the reuse, recycling and recovery of vehicles and presented a proposal on this in July 2023. The new version of the EU End-of-Life Vehicle Regulation, which is currently being reviewed and still needs to be finally approved, provides for an obligatory share of 25 percent recycled plastics of the total amount of plastic in the vehicle for all new vehicles that are to receive type approval in the EU. The legislation places a clear focus on post-consumer recyclates (PCR) that ideally come from mechanical recycling processes; 25 percent of the mentioned 25 percent PCR share should come from the recycling of plastics from end-of-life vehicles. That is 6.25 percent of the total amount of plastic.

Polypropylene and particularly polypropylene compounds will therefore have to make a substantial, disproportionate contribution to achieving recycling targets.

Georg Grestenberger

“To meet this required recyclate quota, essentially all major plastic parts in and around the vehicle must be realized with recyclate or recyclate content, such as bumpers, sills or covers,” says Georg Grestenberger, Application Marketing Manager Interior – Mobility at Borealis Polyolefins GmbH in Linz, Austria. “With about one third, polypropylene accounts for the largest share of plastics in the car. Therefore, polypropylene and especially polypropylene compounds will also have to contribute a major, disproportionate contribution to achieving recycling goals,” Grestenberger continues.


Gallery with 7 images

How this can be achieved, he will demonstrate in Mannheim using the example of recycled post-consumer PP for high-quality automotive interior applications. “With the so-called ‘advanced mechanical recycling’ of plastics from household waste, Borealis has taken a big step towards a circular economy. We now offer a portfolio of PP compounds with more than 25 percent PCR content. These materials allow our customers to manufacture plastic components which meet common automotive requirements,” he names fields of application. The first projects are expected to go into series production in 2024.

Vehicle underbodies made of natural fibers and recycled polypropylene

A sustainable overall concept for vehicle underbodies was developed as part of a research project within a development consortium for use in future electric vehicle platforms. The project partners Audi AG, Röchling Automotive SE, BBP Kunststoffwerk Marbach Baier GmbH, Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz Institute WKI and the Thuringian Institute for Textile and Plastic Research TITK were able to substitute the material concepts currently used in vehicles with natural fiber-reinforced composite materials within this project. “With the development of a sustainable vehicle underbody, a demanding group of components with high plastic content has been opened up for the use of natural materials. So far, natural fiber composite components have been used primarily as cladding parts without significant mechanical tasks in the automobile. However, the large components in the vehicle underbody considered in the project place high demands on bending and impact behavior,” describes Fabian Groh, Development Add-on System at Audi AG in Neckarsulm, the challenge.

In the development of the underbody, high-performance glass fibers were replaced with natural materials such as flax, hemp, and cellulose fiber. Here, underbody components were realized with up to 45 percent natural fiber content. In addition, new polypropylene was completely avoided; only recycled materials were used.

Newly developed materials meet all standard requirements.

The produced components were extensively tested both at the component level and in driving tests. “The pleasing result of these tests is: The newly developed materials meet all standard requirements for underbody components and prove to be suitable for series production. Neither the use of natural fibers nor the use of post-consumer recyclates leads to a significant drop in properties for the customer,” the expert confirms the practical relevance.

The newly developed materials are suitable for all component concepts used in the VW Group’s vehicle underbody, according to Groh. Sustainable alternatives have been developed for the materials used there. “This affects a module of approximately 10 kilograms in each vehicle. So it can certainly be said that there is a large volume potential with high industrial relevance,” he identifies the potential for use.

Sustainable and individual mobility for everyone.

In addition to sustainability topics, this year’s PIAE program also offers an overview of challenging component examples, manufacturing processes, simulation methods, and lightweight construction applications.

And what distinguishes the vehicle concepts of the future? “In order for individual mobility to remain possible in the future, the vehicle must remain socially acceptable and affordable. At the same time, the vehicle of the future must be energy efficient, light, and environmentally friendly,” says congress director Thomas Drescher, naming the global and essential cornerstones for vehicle development.


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