Driving sustainability forwards
How composites can contribute to automotive net-zero
In August 2021, nearly £92 million of government and industry funding was announced to help accelerate the UK automotive industry towards net zero emissions. The funding, shared between four projects, is expected to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 32 million tonnes. It’s no longer optional for automotive to become more sustainable — it is now vital if the sector wants to survive. Here, Matt Bradney, board member of Composites UK, on of this year’s exhibitors at Advanced Engineering UK, explores how composites can support automotive sustainability efforts.
Passenger cars are responsible for 12 per cent of total EU CO2 emissions. In response to growing concerns, the European Commission released new CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and vans. To contribute to the net zero goals that have been laid out, the automotive industry must seek more sustainable ways of producing vehicles.
Lighter vehicles, lower emissions
Industry wide, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) must analyse the environmental impact of their supply chain — starting with identifying how much CO2 is produced for each vehicle, through to the CO2 production from suppliers. From this analysis, OEMs can make positive changes to their vehicle production.
Composites are renowned for their light weighting ability, which is almost 50 percent that of steel, in comparison. It’s this property that makes composites crucial in reducing emissions.
Eliminating heavy metal parts and replacing with lightweight composites is a significant way to reduce emissions. By creating lighter vehicles that consequentially require less fuel to power, emissions are notably reduced. Composites can be used to replace exterior panels such as doors and bonnets, as well as interior components such as battery cases.
A practical demonstration of how composites can reduce vehicle weight was highlighted by a project between Ford, Gestamp, the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the University of Nottingham, which used composites to reduce the weight of a Ford Transit van by 32 kilograms (KGs).
As well as offering lighter material options for components, composites can also support electrification across the industry, by being used in electric vehicle (EV) production.
Removing an internal combustion engine from a vehicle provides immediate reduction in emissions and is one of the reasons for the uptake and demand for EVs. Prodrive Composites has produced composite structures to create a lighter, more economical EV.
While light weighting is one of the most convenient and feasible ways of reducing CO2 emissions, it doesn’t solve all industry problems. OEMs should also consider environmentally friendlier manufacturing processes.
Although there is the argument surrounding the recyclability of composites — something not currently practiced in the UK — there are more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes available.
One example is to minimise waste by using reclaimed fibres that are non-conforming. In this process, fibres are taken from waste streams, bobbin ends and weavers, and converted into 50-millimetre (mm) lengths to create a non-woven mat. Finally, the fabric is impregnated with resin as part of the moulding process, ready for production.
Reclaiming the fibers prevents the redundant material from otherwise ending up in landfill, minimising CO2 emissions as a result.
In composite production, there is a wide variety of material options and combinations that can be made with fibres and resins. To create a more sustainable product, composites can be produced from natural fibres, such as flax and hemp.
Natural fibres are more environmentally friendly because they are not man-made. Flax for example, is not just carbon neutral, it can also be considered carbon-negative because the plant captures carbon as it grows and locks it into the finished part. Similarly, is hemp fibre, which grows three times a year to produce a significantly larger yield, creating more opportunities to use it in composite components.
While these fibres provide sustainable benefits to the manufacturing process and finished product, natural fibers do not offer the same mechanical strength as carbon fibers — but they do offer superior vibration and noise dampening.
While industry funding is expected to save tonnes of CO2 emissions, manufacturers must take responsibility to make positive changes. While opting for light weight composites can directly reduce the emissions a vehicle produces, the industry should also consider the impact of materials and manufacturing processes.
The journey towards net zero will not be quick, but small changes to production can make significant gains in reducing CO2.
Composites UK exhibited at Advanced Engineering UK on November 3 and 4, 2021. To register your interest, visit www.advancedengineeringuk.com.
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About Advanced Engineering: Bringing together thousands of attendees from OEMs, tier 1 manufacturers, and supply chain partners, Advanced Engineering is the UK’s largest annual advanced engineering and manufacturing event.
With a two-day attendance of some 15,000 engineering professionals, Advanced Engineering promotes supply chain business and technology transfer across aerospace, automotive, medical technology, energy, and indeed any sector that involves high-value manufacturing, R & D and innovation.
About Easyfairs, organisers of Advanced Engineering:
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Easyfairs employs more than 750 people and generated revenues exceeding €171 million for its financial year 2018-2019. Easyfairs strives to be the most adaptable, agile and effective player in the events industry by employing committed individuals, deploying the best marketing and technology tools and developing strong brands.
In 2018 Easyfairs was named Belgium’s “Entrepreneur of the Year®” and in 2019 it was named a “Best Managed Company” by Deloitte. The company is ranked 18th in the list of the world’s leading exhibition companies.
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