How does the automotive industry rely on petrochemistry?

When consumers buy cars, they compare vehicles not only on the basis of marque or colour, but also their costs, safety, and level of CO2 emissions. The chemical industry’s research and innovations contribute to the properties of a car. Innovative chemicals also improve drivers’ comfort and safety in the form of antifreeze and other fluids, rubber tyres and hoses, plastic dashboards, and the coating of a modern car.

Lighter vehicle, reduced costs

The chemical industry helps to reduce vehicle weight, which influences fuel economy and the impact on the both the environment and the car-owner’s wallet. For example, modern polyesters reduce the quantity of foam used in seats, decreasing its weight significantly.

Owing to their light weight and their good performance in scratch and resistance tests polycarbonates and their blends are starting to be tailored for sunroofs, panoramic roofs, and side and rear windows.

Polyamide containers for air bags are more than 50% lighter than the metal equivalents. Body plastic panels also help to reduce weight, besides being cheap and easy to produce.

Safer cars through chemistry

While the airbag container contributes to the weight of the car, airbags first of all affect the safety of the passengers. Here modern nylon offers a good balance of strength and resistance.

Tyres made from Styrene-Butadiene-Rubber (SBR) reduce rolling resistance and improve safety. The vehicle interior, from centre console to glove compartments and panels, is made of Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS), which not only offers excellent scratch resistance but also withstands high temperatures.

What about comfort and longevity?

Flexible moulded foams made of polyurethane are used in seats, headrests and armrests. These foams help to dampen vibrations and offer increased stability to the passengers. Drivers’ and passengers’ comfort is also taken care of with noise insulation by sound-absorbing polyurethane.

Modern coatings protect against rain and snow, UV rays and corrosion. They also offer colour stability over a long period. The chemical industry is even conducting research on phosphorescent coatings which absorb sunlight during the day and release it in the night-time.

Environmentally friendlier vehicles

Reducing CO2 emissions has become a priority for the automotive industry. The average CO2 emissions rating (grams of dioxide per kilometre driven) is today 179 g/km. In order to protect the environment, the European Commission has set a limit of 120 g/km for 65% of new cars by 2012 and for 100% of new cars by 2015.

One of the measures to help reach this target is included in the new Fuel Quality Directive issued by the European Commission. This directive requires a reduction in the amount of CO2 emitted, which petrochemical innovations for vehicles are supporting. For example, the lighter the car, the lower the fuel consumption and the CO2 emissions. Also mixing petrol and diesel with renewable components helps to reduce CO2 emissions. 

The topic is discussed on the Xperimania chat “How does the automotive industry rely on petrochemistry?” on 23 March, 11.00 CET. The chat language is German.

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