The use of speciality chemicals in the automotive industry has kept pace with growing requirements of lightweighting and emissions reduction. Global trends have warranted the increased use of advanced polymers, which helps carmakers achieve international quality standards. BASF has been a leading solutions provider for speciality materials and chemical solutions for the automotive sector. ATR met Prabir Das, Business Director, Performance Materials-South Asia, BASF, to discuss the innovation witnessed by the materials development industry for automobiles.
BASF’s automotive-related expertise spans from engineering plastics, coatings and fuel additives to catalysts, battery materials and brake fluids, along with chemicals for leather and textiles. The technical expertise generated through extensive global operations allows the company to become a part of OEMs’ development teams to deliver improved efficiencies and top-tier service.
Due to ongoing R&D and knowledge-sharing across all its centres, BASF is able to drive research and innovation in collaboration with its partners for developing customised solutions for its customers. The new Polyether Polyol developed recently by BASF is intended to improve interior air quality of cars with lower VOCs. As part of their Lupranol brand of speciality chemicals, this solution has been proven to significantly reduce VOC emissions, particularly Aldehyde, making it a more sustainable alternative in the production of polyurethane foams for automotive interior applications such as seats, headliners, and steering wheels. The company envisages greater focus on improving the interior air quality of cars with lower-VOC products.
Elastoflex is another similar innovation aimed at more eco-friendly manufacturing. It is a water-blown polyurethane spray foam system for in-vehicle insulation, and as the spray foam adapts to various shapes of the substrate, Elastoflex offers full design flexibility for customers. Das said that its low density of 8-10 kg/m3 enables weight and cost savings, which helps reduce overall fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.
BASF offers high-performance plastics, which can help achieve a weight reduction of up to 50 % compared to steel and up to 30% compared to aluminium. Lightweighting of vehicles reduces fuel consumption and consequently CO2 emissions. Reducing the total weight of a car by 100 kg can save around 0.4 l of fuel for every 100 km driven. A modern European mid-sized car already contains 15-20 % of plastic content, so the gains can be substantial.
Das said that while the company strives to reduce emissions at source by reducing the weight of vehicles, its researchers also work on providing solutions to control and eliminate emission with its mobile emissions catalyst division. BASF helps automotive manufacturers with its catalytic converters to meet strict standards such as Euro VI, in terms of Hydrocarbon (HC), Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitroxides (NOx) and particulate matter emissions.
BASF is playing a crucial role in supporting OEMs to comply with the new BS IV regulations that have recently been enforced in India. While this development is completed, we are preparing ourselves with all the OEMs to meet even stricter standards by 2020 with the implementation of BS VI, said Das.
REDUCING NVH LEVELS
Heat management in modern IC engines is one of the key requirements to improve fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. BASF continues to enhance its products and further improve their heat aging performance at elevated temperatures – for example up to 220°C in the intake system. In addition to that, BASF is also developing new formulations to reinforce hydrolysis resistance for long term use in automotive cooling systems. When it comes to NVH reduction, the company contributes to improve cars’ acoustic performance with PU solution, through the cavity pillar foam applications.
Engine and chassis mounts made with ultramid polymer (as a replacement for metal) also contribute to overall NVH reduction due to the material’s excellent damping behaviour. BASF’s Cellasto polyurethanes reduce NVH as spring isolators, spring aids or top mounts, improving passenger comfort and safety. Their unique formulation and structure delivers, in addition to damping properties, durability, abrasion resistance, chemical resistance to oil, along with heat and cold stability.
ACHIEVING CAFÉ STANDARDS
The US Government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards mandated more than doubling of vehicle fuel efficiency, to 54.5 mpg (23.17 km/l) by the year 2025. In an industry where innovation is critical to success, OEMs and suppliers are working their way up to meeting these tough requirements, in turn leading to the developing of a wide array of technologies that are gradually going into production worldwide. As the chemical solutions provider of choice for OEMs, BASF, with its solutions that include catalysts, engineering plastics, polyurethane and specialty foams, lubricants, fuel additives and battery materials, is working alongside OEMs in helping the latter achieve CAFÉ standards by 2025.
THE WAY FORWARD
Composites are lighter than steel, yet as good or better in terms of stiffness and strength. Unlike steel or aluminium, they also do not rust or corrode. They can meet or exceed safety requirements in a crash because they can be designed to absorb significantly more energy than traditional metals when crushed on impact.
For lightweight construction in automotive engineering, BASF has already showcased technologies with composite materials based on polyurethane systems and thermoplastics, and the company remains committed to continuing R&D in this area, for further advancements.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley