Electric vehicles are the future. Currently, only one out of 250 cars being driven today are electric. Although forecasts vary, most experts are sure that electric cars will come to dominate the market, whether that happens in the near future (consulting company Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts 30% of vehicles will be electric by 2040) or in the distant future (Exxon and other oil companies predict that only 15% of vehicles will be electric by that date). Whenever the electrification of our car fleets comes to pass, one thing is clear – the plastics industry, and especially the engineering plastics industry, will have a major role to play in the transformation.
According to Chemical and Engineering News, the total amount of plastic and composite materials in a typical auto has increased significantly – from 8 kg per vehicle in 1960 to 151 kg in 2016. Most of this increase can be attributed to the fact that an increasing emphasis on fuel-efficiency and safety has naturally led to an embrace of plastics materials, which are typically lighter, longer-lasting, and more resilient to impact than metals.
The emphasis on efficiency is likely to increase even more as electric vehicles become more popular. That’s because one of the main factors preventing wider use of electric vehicles today is the limited range such vehicles can travel without recharging. Given the fact that aerodynamic improvements can only be taken so far in a practical vehicle, the best way to increase range is to decrease weight.
Engineering plastics, which are designed to withstand extreme conditions, will be a critical part of this light weighting effort. Although it may come as a surprise, temperatures within the parts of an electric vehicle can greatly exceed those in the engine of a traditional petrol vehicle.
One challenge is finding a way to adequately shield the 400-600 volt components found in electric vehicles to prevent electrical arcing and interference. Today, that’s mostly accomplished using a great deal of metal. Plastic alternatives, with the benefits of light weight and durability, are now being researched, and may include plastics materials enriched with conductive additives.
Another challenge where the engineering plastics community will have a lot to offer is in the development of lighter, plastics-based car batteries. Given that the batteries are by far the heaviest component of an electric vehicle, the development of lightweight batteries that are structurally and electrically sound will require the use of high-end plastics.
To learn more about the importance of engineering plastics to the future of electric vehicles, check out this informative article published by Rubber and Plastics News.