The world is witnessing rising urbanization, increasing transportation needs, and growing environmental concerns daily. All of these have culminated in vehicle electrification. However, vehicle electrification is flanked by decarbonized electricity generation, directing the shift toward renewable and low-carbon production. This has further resulted in the increased use of plastics in electric vehicle manufacturing. According to Inkwood Research, the global electric vehicle plastic market is set to grow at a CAGR of 28.72% during the forecast period, 2022-2030.
Further, electric vehicle sales are surging globally against the backdrop of automakers making commitments to raise efficiency, minimizing dependence on fossil fuels for transportation, and expanding electric fleets. Also, automotive propulsion hybridization (combination of electric and gas propulsion) is ascending. Accordingly, plastics are evaluated to supplement this trend.
What is the Role of Plastics in Electric Vehicles (EVs)?
Automotive Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) prioritize injection molded plastic parts and metal-to-plastic conversion to align with the demands and environmental benefits of electric vehicles, next-generation internal combustion engines, and hybrids.
The shift is attributed to the major roles that plastics play, including:
A business readily pursues low alternatives & production costs. Plastics’ potential to enable an overall cost savings of 25-50% over metal is a big advantage in terms of metal-to-plastic conversion. Also, plastic utilization streamlines the number of secondary operations conventionally associated with metal parts and restricts the number of required assembly steps. In addition, OEMs can integrate multiple components into a single-molded part design as against making numerous individual components out of metal and welding them together.
Further, the production of injection-molded plastic parts is cost effective than metal components. Such developments enable electric vehicle makers and OEMs to regulate costs and maximize profits. Besides, OEMs can create complex plastic parts using scientific molding processes with tight tolerances that do not need secondary machining. As a result, fewer assembly time and production steps can facilitate considerable cost savings and design flexibility.
Plastics’ high versatility and easy moldability make them an ideal raw material for electric vehicle manufacturing. Also, a number of polymers (thermoplastics) offer superior heat resistance, allowing for efficient construction and cooling of battery compartments without hampering the durability and safety of electric vehicles.
Since plastics are lightweight, they help reduce the weight of vehicles by replacing heavy materials like glass and metal to save energy. This further enhances a vehicle’s fuel efficiency because a lighter object needs less energy to accelerate and keep in motion than a heavier one.
As per the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, a 10% cutback on weight can enable 6%-8% fuel economy enhancement for traditional vehicles. Such performance benefits are equally relevant to electric vehicles.
Besides, without lightweight components, electric vehicles will not have the required range to be functional. And plastic components often weigh 50% less than similar components made from other materials. So, lightweight plastics can constitute 50% of a vehicle’s volume but only around 10% of its weight. Therefore, lightweight materials become necessary for hybrid and electric vehicles to counterbalance the weight of electric batteries and motors.
Plastics prevent damage to the basic cell unit from minor accidental impacts and have good shock-absorbing characteristics. Also, they are electrical insulators appropriate for averting short-circuiting and battery fires & explosions resulting from thermal runaways. In addition, some polymers are electrostatic-discharge-safe (ESD), i.e., they are non-conductive and can dissipate static electricity to minimize the risk of thermal runaway.
Moreover, the increasing use of plastic parts in electric vehicle batteries is attributed to the growing demand for lithium-ion batteries. Most batteries for light vehicles have 50% more plastic than they did a few years ago. Further, the plastic components implemented in batteries include casing components, gaskets, and separators.
Accordingly, manufacturers are turning to advanced polymer solutions for energy-dense, lightweight battery packs that are compatible and resist overhearing with large-volume automated assembly systems. For instance, in March 2022, Evonik developed a new generation of battery packs, the ‘Pure Performance Battery‘ (PPB). It is based on sheet molding compound (SMC) technology made using the company’s curing agents.
Most plastics used in automobiles come from four main polymers, PVC, polyurethane, polypropylene, and polyamides. Inkwood Research’s analysis of the global electric vehicle plastic market by type includes acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), polyurethane (PU), polypropylene (PP), and polyamide (PA).
As per our evaluations, polypropylene (PP) is the largest revenue-generating plastic in the market, with a revenue share of 32.07% in 2021. While polyurethane (PU) is the fastest-growing plastic, with a CAGR of 28.99% by 2030.
What is the Future of Electric Vehicle Plastics?
Today, the automotive industry’s foremost challenges include minimizing CO2 emissions and fuel consumption. Also, researchers and scientists are looking for alternatives to conventional plastics. Accordingly, automotive manufacturers are inclined to biomaterials and bio-plastics like bio-based poly-amides and poly-based polyesters to drastically reduce their products’ environmental impact.
Bio-based plastics entail a vast range of materials like mass commodity plastics, polybutylene succinates (PBS), and polytrimethylene terephthalate (PTT) & thermoplastic copolyester elastomers (TPC-ET). The growing focus on lightweighting in automotive is estimated to raise the use of automotive bio-plastics. This is because they contribute to restricting the environmental impact of vehicle manufacturing by minimizing energy usage and carbon emissions.
Besides, materials like bio-based polyesters or polyamides encompass enhanced performance criteria that aid in manufacturing high-quality car components. As a result, the increasing use of bio-plastics in electric vehicles is a relevant trend directing the global electric vehicle plastic market growth.
By Akhil Nair
Which are the prominent companies in the global electric vehicle plastic market?
Plastic Omnium, DOW Inc, Evonik Industries, BASF Group, and Covestro AG are among the prominent companies in the global electric vehicle plastic market.
Which is the lucrative region in the global electric vehicle plastic market?
Europe is the lucrative region in the global electric vehicle plastic market.