The prized Ford Model T, voted the most influential car of the 20th century, boasted coil cases constructed from wheat gluten and asbestos fibers.
During the 1920s, new interest arose in the use of soybean-based products. Automotive paints, glycerol used in shock absorbers, and rubber substitutes all contained soybean oil.
Ford would continue his experimentation and implementation of bioplastics up until the 1940s when the first car body manufactured from soybean plastics was revealed.
However, the culmination of World War II would see a shift from the use of bioplastics to that of petroleum-based plastics in automotive manufacturing.
This transition occurred as a direct result of the availability of inexpensive oil.
Uses for Bioplastic in the Automotive Industry
The usage of mainly petroleum-based plastics for automotive parts would continue up till the start of the 21st century. In the last couple of decades, carmakers have begun the transition to bioplastics.
Factors such as technological advances, an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, and a greater focus on environmental sustainability and vehicle end life management, have all attributed to this trend.
The most commonly used bioplastics in the automotive industry include:
Naturally occurring fibers such as soy and hemp strengthen polymers.
Other fibers including agave and corn are in research and development processes.
In 2018, Ford began testing non-biodegradable bioplastics derived from the agave plant to improve fuel economy and make cars more lightweight.
Ford has also found use in soy-based foam for car seats and is evaluating other materials such as bamboo and oat culls can be used as bioplastics in their products. Some other bioplastics that have entered the automotive manufacturing industry include:
- Bio-polyamides (Bio-PA) and their composites possess strong mechanical properties. The first Bio-PA, known as Rilsan PA 11 to be implemented in the automotive industry, was made from castor oil. Applications included connectors, brake noses, fuel lines, and flexible tubing. Toyota has used DuPont Zytel, a combination of nylon resin materials, in the radiation end tanks of their Camrys and Denso.
- Polylactic Acid (PLA) is one of the newer bioplastics being applied in the automotive industry, as it was traditionally utilized in the biomedical industry. Components of the vehicle interior, such as mats, carpeting, and upholstery, are well suited for PLA use. PLA is also used in under-the-hood elements.
- Bio-based polypropylene (Bio-PP) can be implemented as a substitute for polypropylene for many applications, including bumpers, spoilers, dashboards, air conditioning, battery covers, and air ducts.
Are Bioplastics the Best Option for Automotive Applications?
In light of dwindling fossil resources, the unpredictability of oil prices, and the need for more cost and fuel effective vehicles, bioplastics are hailed as one of the best replacement materials for plastics and metals. They’re providing countless advantages in the industry, including:
- Reduced dependency on fossil resources, which are forecasted to deplete in supply and increase in price.
Immunity to fluctuations in the price of oil caused by international incidents.
- Significantly reduced carbon footprint.
- Better recyclability, so the end of life process for vehicles made from bioplastic materials can yield other products.
- Increased access to bioplastics in the future; the bioplastic industry is expecting to rise in capacity from 2.11 million tons per year in 2018 to 2.6 million tons in 2023.
Evidenced by the construction of the first car made entirely from bioplastics in 2018 and mandates for bioplastic usage targets by major corporations such as Toyota, Mazda, and Ford, the growth of the bioplastic industry is inevitable.
With sustained research and exciting innovations, more significant applications for this versatile product will continue to find commonplace in the automotive industry.
Published on thomasnet.com