DETROIT — Faurecia SA's interest in bio-composites extends beyond injection molding parts for the auto industry, and to the material itself.
The French auto supplier opened its first compounding plant in late 2013 specifically to make pellets for its NafiLean material, which uses a hemp filler in place of glass or talc. It is also looking to sell the resin to competitors, making it possible to supply the raw material even if it is not responsible for molding the final part.
The compounding operation in Méru, France, is a small-scale industrial operation at this point, making polypropylene and hemp NafiLean pellets for current production in Europe, said Alexander Hasler, product strategy director and head of global marketing for Nanterre, France-based Faurecia in an interview during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Jan. 13.
Faurecia expects to open a second compounding facility for NafiLean in North America as sales come in from that region, Hasler said.
With the Méru facility, Faurecia joins a small group of global auto suppliers with in-house compounding capabilities, and the interest in selling raw materials in addition to complete systems.
“Having the knowledge of what is needed to supply a full interior program is an advantage even when you're working on a component level,” he said.
Adding compounding allows the company to address niche material requirements that larger, global resin suppliers typically are not supplying, said Jay Hutchins, director of marketing and product planning for Faurecia North America.
For NafiLean, that interest is for an injection moldable bio-composite, rather than compression molded materials used in the past. Faurecia is using it in interior parts on the new Peugeot 308.
Faurecia developed the resin along with a consortium of university research and agriculture groups and is marketing under the Automotive Performance Materials joint venture name.
It is working with Mitsubishi Chemicals to develop another bio-plastic — called BioMat — which Hasler expects will be ready for the market by 2016.
Unlike NafiLean, which is still 80 percent traditional PP, BioMat combines bio-based fillers with a plant-based resin for a 100 percent bio-plastic.
“We saw a gap in our portfolio for an all-natural material,” Hasler said.
BioMat uses sugar cane to develop polybutylene succinic polymers. The PBS is targeted to replace traditional polycarbonate/ABS or PP with long glass fibers in parts such as door substrates or instrument panel carriers.