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Use of lightweight plastics in EVs to drive penetration rates and growth

Use of lightweight plastics in EVs to drive penetration rates and growth

With the electric vehicle (EV) production set to grow at a CAGR of over 80% 2017, plastics used in these vehicles will also see a tremendous growth. The need to increase EV mile range, paralleled by the inherent advantages of plastics, particularly that of lightweight, will drive penetration rates. Analysis from Frost & Sullivan finds that the market earned revenues of US$0.5 mln in 2010 and estimates this to reach US$73 mln in 2017. The research covers power train plastics, battery casing plastics, thermal management system materials and wire and cable plastic materials. As the electric vehicles market takes off, it is set to have a positive ripple effect on the uptake of plastics. "Plastics for EVs are driven by lightweighting trends which, in turn, are fuelled by the need to improve EV mile range," notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Shree Vidhyaa Karunanidhi. EVs are typically characterised by huge batteries which add to the overall weight of the vehicle and affect the mile range. To compensate for the battery weight, metals are increasingly being substituted by plastic. Important structural components such as gears and motors are made of metal. Strength and crash-resistance requirements indicate that metals will remain the preferred material for these applications. However, plastics have huge potential in some of the minor, non-moving components such as energy recovery devices, cooling pipes, pumps, fans, and casing materials. The current level of penetration of plastics in these components varies. In the case of cooling pipes and fans, plastics are preferred, whereas for other components such as energy recovery devices (pedal and pump) and casing materials, plastics have low to moderate penetration. The inherent features of plastics are, nonetheless, set to push their rapid growth rate in these segments. The reduced scope for plastics in EVs in comparison to conventional, gasoline-fuelled vehicles poses a major restraint to market prospects. EU end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recycling legislation, which entails the use of recyclable materials, poses another challenge to market participants. Although thermoplastics used in these cars are recyclable, automotive shredders are typically made up of different types of plastics. These need to be sorted out before they are recyclable. Therefore, on the one hand there is a need for lightweight cars to improve the mile range in EVs. On the other hand, ELV recycling legislation requires the OEMs to use recyclable materials. This issue can be solved if OEMs work with tier-1 suppliers to develop recycling technologies. This will ensure sustainable use of plastics in the long-term.

Electric vehicles � plug-in hybrids and battery powered � will comprise nearly 20% of the global market for light vehicles in 2030, according to a study by automotive industry analysts at IHS Global Insight. IHS forecasts an 8.6% market share for plug-in hybrids and a 9.9% share for battery-electrics. The development of powerful, long-lasting batteries and ready access to a reliable power grid for recharging remain the critical issues for the success of the battery-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle of the future, according to the white paper. In addition to technology limitations, high costs and expectations of consumers' accustomed to internal combustion engine vehicles must also be overcome before the plugged-in vehicles achieve significant acceptance. The major challenges to be overcome if the vehicles are to be successful in the marketplace are consumers' preference for long range, versatile vehicles; cost and uncertainty about battery life; perceptions of safety hazard; and adequacy of the power grid. There are two kinds of PEVs: pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) powered only by an on-board battery recharged from the electric power grid; and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) that combine an internal combustion engine with a battery that can also be charged from the grid and run for as long as 100 miles before needing the internal combustion engine. BEVs, the study concludes, will find a natural home in urban environments, while PHEVs will play a transitional role in suburban environments where range anxiety is a real concern. At issue is whether consumers will continue to use personal motor vehicles for work and play as they do today, or whether there will be strong moves away from the extensive use of privately owned cars in urban areas, accompanied by significant third-party influence changing consumer attitudes towards cars and how they are used.
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