The characteristics of plastics – being extremely flexible, highly resilient and yet very light – have boosted the career of plastics in many areas of application. Re-ducing weight in vehicles of all kinds also means savings in terms of cost, use of resources and emissions. It is not about rivaling conventional materials like met-als, explains Dr. Baumann, but about “combining the best of different material worlds”.
For years, plastics-based composite materials have been experiencing a boost in the car industry. Storage compartment lid, hood, sliding roof, brakes, attenuator, tie rod, hub cap, heating tubes, seat belts, driving belt, air filter, valve lid, ignition distributor cap, spark plug connector, connector strips, airbag, headrests, seat covers – approximately 2000 vehicle parts in body, chassis, motor electrics or interior features are today made from plastics or are based on plastics and the trend continues to increase.
There are good reasons for this, as the following three examples show. Better functionality: an intake manifold made from synthetic material increases the efficiency of the motor by optimizing the flow properties. Fuel tanks made from plastics can be designed according to individual requirements, which not only reduces the weight of the vehicle, but the available room is also used efficiently and visually attractively.
Mufflers made from synthetic material are approximately 13 kilograms lighter than conventional equivalents and only need 50 percent of their space. The waste gas pressure is reduced by half, which means a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions or an enhancement in horsepower. Brought to the point: savings of 0.2 liters fuel per 100 km, transferred to a German car fleet of 42 million cars, results in total savings of 8.4 million liters fuel per 100 kilometers driven. This makes both drivers and the environment happy.
The aviation industry, too, has learned to appreciate the added value of synthetic materials in terms of cost and fuel reduction. For example, 25% of the Airbus A380 consists of plastics reinforced with carbon-fiber. The result: 15 percent less kerosene consumption. Airplane manufacturer Boeing goes even further: “The amount of synthetic materials of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is already at 50 percent, which leads to considerably lower emissions of environmentally harmful gases during operation, says Dr. Baunemann.
Clean, environmentally friendly ways of producing energy also cannot get around polymer materials: “The rotors of wind turbines are made of plastics and synthetic materials are the base of commercial solar systems for energy production,” the managing director reports. Polymers furthermore play a central role in fuel cell technology.
By the way: even though the majority of all synthetic materials is still produced from crude oil and natural gas, renewable raw materials are increasingly utilized. Dr. Baunemann:”Fossil resources are simply too limited for the plastics industry to solely rely on them.” However, without plastics, says Dr. Rüdiger Baunemann, the future is not possible: “This is the material of the 21st century.”