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Driving Sustainable Futures

August 30, 2022

Steering Automotive Materials Innovation

Ulrich Plotzke, Global Commercial Director, Automotive

The automotive industry is facing a pivotal moment, as we re-evaluate the life cycle of vehicles, including plastic materials. With the European Union’s revision of the “End of Life of Vehicles” (ELV) Directive expected later this year, we anticipate new regulatory requirements for sustainable solutions as part of the vehicle life cycle, adding to the existing social and economic pressures.

Consumers are consistently demanding more sustainable offerings, as more people make buying decisions based on their environmental impact. While recycled content-containing plastics have been used in vehicles for quite some time, they are often tucked away in wheel wells and floorboards due to not meeting aesthetic or safety quality standards for inclusion in the main body or cab. However, with demand increasing from both consumers and manufacturers, materials providers like Trinseo have invested in innovative technologies that have yielded recycled content-containing materials that meet safety and performance standards to allow for increased use throughout the vehicle. 

Safety & Performance

When we talk about vehicle safety and performance standards, we need to think about how materials perform under extreme conditions. How does it behave in the coldest temperatures of Northern Sweden in the winter versus the extreme heat of the Arizona deserts in the summer?

Plastic components that are inside the cab of the vehicle, such as airbag covers and dashboard parts, need to meet rigorous safety standards so they limit the chance of harm during an accident. Up until recently, plastics containing recycled content could not perform at the same level as the prime material. It would become glass-like in freezing temperatures, fail side impact standards, or simply just smell terrible.

However, new recycling technologies such as depolymerization, dissolution, and super clean recycling allow Trinseo to create recycled content-containing plastics that meet safety and performance requirements in the United States, Europe, and Asia. This innovation has led to the first use of recycled content-containing polycarbonate/ acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (PC/ABS) materials in the car door panels of a luxury vehicle manufacturer’s newest SUV model.

End-of-Life Recycling

Looking ahead, this innovation will also help us continue to repurpose automotive materials to support a circular economy. Plastics enable us to lightweight transportation so combustion-engine and electric vehicles alike can go farther with less energy consumption, reducing CO2 consumption and improving efficiency. However, with millions of cars on the road today, we need to address the issue of end-of-life waste.

These same technologies that can help us create safe performing recycled materials for new vehicles, can also enable materials manufacturers to repurpose PC/ABS and other materials from a vehicle once it can no longer be on the road. While the revised ELV Directive has yet to be published, many automotive manufacturers are already thinking about how vehicles can be safely designed with the purpose of efficient disassembly at the end of its life, so in 10+ years the materials can be recycled. 

It is an exciting time to be part of this automotive revolution. Recycling technologies have continued to evolve as demand for sustainably-advantaged materials and products has increased. As a materials manufacturer, Trinseo will continue to innovate new solutions to meet our customers' sustainability needs.

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