Jeffrey Sternberg is global automotive technology director for DuPont Co., a global plastics and chemicals leader based in Wilmington, Del.
In that role, he's responsible for bringing the breadth of DuPont advanced materials — as well as renewably sourced materials and fuels — to the auto industry as it continues to develop low emission, fuel efficient vehicles that are safe, affordable and fun to drive.
Sternberg joined DuPont in 1988 as a synthesis chemist for DuPont Crop Protection. He held several roles in the Crop Protection business before advancing to management. In 2006, Sternberg joined Central Research & Development/Materials Science and Engineering, where he led a group focused on developing materials solutions for photovoltaics that improve conversion efficiency, lower cost and extend system lifetime.
Sternberg received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago and a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Illinois.
Ahead of NPE 2015, Sternberg spoke with reporter Frank Esposito about the materials market.
Q: Where does lightweighting fit in with DuPont's materials strategy?
Sternberg: Lightweighting is still a major thrust for DuPont and for the auto industry in general. We did a benchmark study with Ward's that looked at major strategies to achieve lightweighting and fuel efficiency, and in that study, only 25 percent of respondents said they were confident that the materials they were using could meet 2025 CAFE standards. Cost was one of the reasons for skepticism. Meeting environmental regulations was a non-issue, but the jury is still out with regard to what automakers feel their customers can pay.
Q: In what ways is DuPont working to improve its materials?
Sternberg: We're still improving the performance attributes of engineering polymers in areas like high thermal stability, toughness and stiffness. Customers want solutions that are more cost effective, and we're working closely with customers and OEMs to provide that.
Some new polymers have more efficient processing. We're moving beyond the materials themselves and taking a systems approach that has end-use benefits. We're going to have a number of new laminates and hybrid materials, and composite materials with new fillers. We'll constantly be coming out with new and improved materials.
Q: Are there any concerns about materials being over-engineered for certain applications?
Sternberg: Nothing that we're hearing suggests that materials are over-engineered. Some attributes are still needed, like more stiffness.
Q: What steps can DuPont take to expand lightweighting?
Sternberg: A lot has to do with design work, and a lot is being done to replace metal parts with lightweight plastic. We need to look at the confines of our customers' needs. We're adding ribbing [to auto parts] and modifying bellows designs. There's also an emphasis on processing speed. Parts integration can look at how a material is introduced into a vehicle by an OEM. We can simplify the supply chain.
Q: Have lower oil and gas prices affected automotive plastics yet?
Sternberg: We haven't seen a huge change in long term thinking. Low gas prices could be temporary. CAFE standards haven't changed — they're still looking at 55 miles per gallon. It may modify the way people are buying materials, but lightweighting is still the main objective.
Q: What's DuPont doing on the bioplastics side for automotive?
Sternberg: We have a number of programs around renewably sourced polymers. Our industrial biosciences work also can be used in advanced materials for automotive, like Sorona, Hytrel and long-chain nylons.
There's a general interest [in bioplastics] wherever they can be used, whether it's in thermal management systems or in Sorona carpeting in cars. Under-hood applications [for bioplastics] also are desired.
Customers are eager to use them, but the challenge is in identifying the right applications to use them in. For example, they can give a very soft feel to carpet and still resist stains more than nylon or polyester can, so they're easier to clean.
In recent years, there's been a huge appetite for new materials in general. Part of that's been driven by the regulatory climate and part by a need for differentiation. New technology is highly desired by the ultimate consumers, so a lot of OEMs are trying to position themselves as innovative.