Electric Vehicles Driving Demand for Plastics

As the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) rises over the next several years, plastic manufacturers may benefit from the growth potential for the cars’ minor, non-moving components.

An analysis from Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm, projects EV electric vehicleproduction to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of more than 80% through to 2017 in Europe and North America, reports Plastics Today. Correspondingly, the demand for plastics used in these vehicles also will grow correspondingly.

“Plastics for EVs are driven by lightweighting trends which, in turn, are fuelled by the need to improve EV mile range,” notes Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Shree Vidhyaa Karunanidhi. “EVs are typically characterized by huge batteries which add to the overall weight of the vehicle and affect the mile range. To compensate for the battery weight, metals are increasingly being substituted by plastic.”

The report, titled “Strategic Analysis of Plastics in the Electric Vehicles Market in Europe and North America,” finds that the market has earned $500,000 in 2010 and estimates that sales will reach $73 million in 2017. The research covers power train plastics, battery casing plastics, thermal management system materials, and wire and cable plastic materials. Frost & Sullivan estimated that just over 200 tons of plastics were used in these applications in 2010 and more than 23,600 tons will be used in 2017.

Metal will remain the preferred material for certain components, such as gears and motors, and for certain requirements, such as strength and crash resistance, the firm says. However, plastics have huge potential in some of the minor, non-moving components, such as energy recovery devices, cooling pipes, pumps, fans, and casing materials.

Plastic currently is preferred for cooling pipes and fans, but for other components, such as energy recovery devices (pedal and pump) and casing materials, plastics have low to moderate penetration, the research firm says. However, the inherent features of plastics are still expected to push their rapid growth rate in these segments.

Karunanidhi cautions:

The reduced scope for plastics in EVs in comparison to conventional, gasoline-fueled vehicles poses a major restraint to market prospects. EU end-of-life vehicle (ELV) recycling legislation, which entails the use of recyclable materials, poses another challenge to market participants.

Recycling is a potential hindrance to growth as well, but the restraint can be resolved. Although thermoplastics used in these cars are recyclable, automotive shredders are typically made up of different types of plastics. These components need to be sorted out before they are recycled.

Therefore, on the one hand, there is a need for lightweight cars to improve the mile range in EVs. On the other hand, ELV recycling legislation requires original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to use recyclable materials.

“This issue can be solved if OEMs work with Tier-1 suppliers to develop recycling technologies,” advises Karunanidhi. “This will ensure sustainable use of plastics in the long-term.”

Source: “EVs’ plastics use set to rocket in Europe, North America,” Plastics Today, 5/31/12
Image by MSVG (Michael Gil), used under its Creative Commons license.