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What’s next for Bio-based Materials in the Automotive Industry?

Organisers of the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology (EFIB) 2013 in Brussels, taking place from 30 September to 1 October, SmithersRapra, speak exclusively to one of the high-profile speakers on the conference programme, Dr. Hagen Seifert, Head of the Technical Department of Advanced Materials, LCA and Renewable Energies at Audi.

Written by Amy Stewart, SmithersRapra.

Although in its relatively early stages, the use of biobased materials is a hot topic in the automotive industry.Manufacturers such as Audi, Ford and Toyota have all taken steps to replace conventional materials with more sustainable, bio-based products. Natural fibre-reinforced plastics, bio-based polyesters, thermoplastic elastomers and vegetable-oil based polymides are just a few examples of bio-based materials being used in vehicle interiors. Currently, their most frequent usage is in headrests, seatback linings and flooring - however this list is expanding and changing all the time.

Audi, for example, is currently working on a range of cradle to cradle concepts, including alternative fuel solutions and replacement materials with a focus on availability and recyclability.Dr. Hagen Seifert is Head of the Technical Department of Advanced Materials, LCA and Renewable Energies at Audi. He claims that in terms of bio-fuel production in the future, Audi ‘tries to be a forerunner in supporting new, green technologies.’ He also believes that biobased materials have even greater potential for the next generation of cars, arguing that:‘today, a big percentage of conventional materials could be replaced by bio-based materials.’

Dr. Seifert does, however, recognise the challenges associated at various stages of the supply chain. For manufacturers,one of the main hurdles is that ‘it takes a lot of time to integrate new technologies into the complex system of a car, and to bring them out of a very early laboratory stage into serial production’. In addition, it’s been suggested that biobased materials have had problems fulfilling the quality standards of the automotive industry, and are unable to deliver sufficient serial production over a number of years. For the dynamic, fast-moving automotive industry, this is obviously an issue.

Cost isanother inevitable stumbling block for manufacturers. ‘The biggest disadvantage [of biobased materials] is always the price’Dr. Seifert explains. ‘The costs of biobased materials must be competitive to conventional, mostly fossil-based materials.’

So,what can be done to advance the progress of biobased materials in the automotive industry, and what are the next steps towards a more permanent, sustainable solution? Dr. Seifert suggests that both industry and policy makers must play a part in boosting the use of biobased parts. In terms of policy-makers, he believes that the whole life cycle of a product needs to be focused on, as opposed to solely the end use-phase. For Seifert, this is reflective of a wider need to move away from a pure focus on tail-pipe emissions, towards the whole life cycle assessment of a vehicle.

For manufacturers, the key is in finding a competitive edge. ‘While biobased materials are in competition to conventional materials, they should have a new add-on advantage, which can be used in the marketing and communication strategy for the end-consumer’.

Dr. Seifert looks forward to discussing these topics further as a member of the Market Pull Panel on Day One of The European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology (EFIB) 2013. The Market Pull Panel will discuss current consumer attitudes towards biobased materials, and also take a deeper dive into the evaluation process that end-use companies implement to determine which products to replace, and what regulatory environment they need to support them. Book your place at EFIB 2013 today.

Find out more about EFIB 2013 at www.efibforum.com

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