Auto supplier Faurecia SA has launched production of an injection molded bio-composite combining hemp and polypropylene in Europe, and is looking for opportunities to expand the technology to North America.
At the same time, the company is in development on an all-natural composite which would combine natural fillers with a plant-based resin.
Both developments come as the auto industry looks to reduce weight and decrease price fluctuations that come from more traditional materials.
“It's only two product cycles now until we get to that (54.5 mile per gallon U.S. fuel economy) standard in 2025,” said Jay Hutchins, director of marketing and product planning for Faurecia North America during a Dec. 12 telephone interview.
Faurecia showed a range of natural material products during the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, and will also display them at an event during the press preview for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 13-16.
Composites using renewable materials as a replacement for glass or talc in auto parts are not new. They have been in production for more than a decade, but typically used in compression molded parts.
Faurecia's NafiLean is an injection molding material, which can be used on existing equipment, decreasing the costs of bringing it to market.
The company began making door panel substrates with it during the summer for two parts on the PSA Peugeot Citroen Group's Peugeot 308.
“We've been doing compression molding for about 25 years now and with natural fiber for 10 or 15 years,” Hutchins said. “Those are great products for something with a relatively flat geometry without undercuts. When you talk about the upper part of the door, there is a lot of tight geometry.”
Hemp also offers an improved density level over glass or talk, so Faurecia can produce a thinner walled part with the same structural capabilities. In the case of the 308, it is saving 400 grams per door panel, he said.
Faurecia is continuing to test NafiLean's prospects in other parts, especially instrument panels, and is looking at beginning production in the U.S. It is lining up material suppliers as well, including sources for hemp.
In testing, hemp has been the best natural material for bio-composites because it works best with the PP chemistry, although U.S. laws restrict hemp production in the country. Other companies have sourced hemp from Canadian farmers for compression molded parts.
The next step beyond NafiLean will be an all-bio-based material, Hutchins said. Faurecia has collaborated with Mitsubishi Chemicals and other partners to develop BioMat, which would combine natural fillers with a bio-based resin.
“The next step in evolution is BioMat,” he said. “The idea is 100 percent green content. You could isolate yourself from fluctuations in the oil market that affect resin prices now.”
Faurecia expects the injection molded BioMat could make it into cars in 2016.