As the auto industry works to improve its environmental credentials by using bio-based and recycled resins, it also keeps running into the old issues of price and availability.
Environmental improvements must still meet economic goals, John Viera, sustainability director for Ford Motor Co., said during a panel discussion at the Society of Automotive Engineers' 2010 World Congress in Detroit. The event was held April 14.
Sometimes I have to remind people that we are not the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Co., he said. It has to make business sense.
Ford has put urethane foam with some soy-oil-based resin on 2 million cars, and has post-consumer recycled resins on underbody shields, splash guards and air deflectors. Last year, it debuted a thermoplastic composite using wheat straw as a filler in the 2010 Ford Flex.
But Viera noted that each new proposed part still has to win its spot based on weight, performance and price.
The Dearborn, Mich.-based carmaker has found that it makes more sense to work with suppliers early in the design phase of new product development to get environmentally friendly parts into cars, he said, but that relies on having a supply base that is interested in green materials too.
Some [carmakers] are being more aggressive than others on environmentally friendly products, and some [suppliers] are more aggressive than others, said Richard Bell, automotive development manager for DuPont Co.'s engineering polymers group.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont produces nylons with bio-based content under the Sorona and Zytel brand names and a Hytrel thermoplastic elastomer with renewable content.
Part of the problem in getting more post-consumer materials into auto parts is in finding a clean and reliable source for the exact materials the industry needs, said Rose Ryntz, director of advanced engineering for International Automotive Components LLC.
Some materials, like PET, some polypropylenes and nylons are pretty easy, but for something like polycarbonate or PC/ABS, the cleanest stream is in [audio and video] discs, and those are already claimed by other sources, she said.
Dearborn-based IAC focuses attention on reducing its own waste stream and reuses in-house post-industrial scrap, she said. But resins are not the only materials with a complicated source stream. Natural fibers used in structural parts must meet specific requirements, and it is not as easy as just harvesting from a nearby farm, she said.
IAC, for instance, produces the inner structure for a door that uses a natural fiber kenaf rather than glass. The part reduces weight and still meets other requirements. But the best kenaf fibers, Ryntz said, are originally grown in Bangladesh and harvested from the middle third of an 18-foot-tall plant.
It's influenced by the time of the year it's grown, and what part of the plant it's taken from, she said.
In the end, natural fiber can end up costing more than its glass or talc alternatives, so the entire final part must be taken into consideration, and not just the individual elements within it, she said.
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