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Study: Plastics' light weight worth potential environmental impacts

By: Rhoda Miel

October 17, 2012

WASHINGTON (Oct. 17, 3:30 p.m. ET) — The American Chemistry Council is touting the results of a life-cycle analysis that shows lighter-weight plastic auto parts not only save fuel, but those fuel savings easily outweigh any impacts from producing those parts.

The ACC’s Plastics Division used two parts already in production — a front support bolster on Ford Motor Co.’s 2010 Taurus sedan and the running board on General Motors Co.’s 2008 Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC.

The Taurus bolster was 46 percent lighter than a plastic and steel bolster in the same car, while the running board was a 51 percent weight improvement over a steel running board, the group noted in an Oct. 16 press release.

PE International Inc. of Boulder, Colo., considered the environmental impacts of the bolster and running board in each stage of the product’s life cycle, including energy used during their production, product manufacturing impacts, product use and end-of-life treatment of the parts.

The study showed that lightweighting the running board would reduce energy use by 2.7 million gallons of gasoline over the life of the vehicle, while reducing the weight of an all-plastic bolster would reduce energy use by 770,000 gallons.

As a result, both parts have lower net environmental impacts over their full life cycles than previous metal components, ACC officials said.