The global auto industry is looking for materials that can help lighten vehicles, improve its environmental footprint, hit key structural and aesthetic points and also come in at, or under, cost requirements.
BASF AG of Ludwigshafen, Germany, is introducing a new resin developed for natural-fiber thermoset composites that takes aim at each of those targets. Acrodur thermosetting acrylic copolymer already is on its first auto application, used in a door panel substrate for the BMW 7 Series sedan molded by DrÃ¤xlmaier Group of Vilsbiburg, Germany.
Acrodur starts as a thermoplastic used to impregnate a natural-fiber mat that could be made of sisal, jute, wood fibers or other materials, said Gero Nordmann, North American market development manager for BASF. Acrodur cross-links under heat during compression molding to become a thermoset plastic. The finished part then boasts high renewable natural material content, and is also structurally stable.
The BMW door panel, which won a 2009 Automotive Innovation award from the Society of Plastics Engineers, is 70 percent natural fiber. It is thinner than the ABS alternative DrÃ¤xlmaier tested it against, and also reduces volatile organic compound emissions.
The reduced VOC element could become an issue for environmental groups that have been studying vehicles' indoor-air quality, said Pat Hooper, principal of environmental consultants Hooper Associates in Emeryville, Calif.
The compression molded panels require more post-mold assembly steps, such as adding attachments and cover stock, but the material also has potential for uses beyond interior structural parts such underbody panels used to improve air flow, Nordmann said during a Nov. 18 introduction of the resin in Flint.
There are always pros and cons, he said. We're not reinventing the industry. We're introducing one new solution.
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