Automotive Filtration: Growing Field for Synthetic Nonwovens

By Lutz Bergmann | August 17, 2005

extended change cycles and service life presents challenges and opportunities

Automotive engine filtration, specifically air induction, engine oil and inline fuel, consumes $460 million of filter media worldwide; 90% is based on cellulose paper and cellulose wet laid nonwoven media. A small but growing portion, approximately 10%, is made from synthetic nonwoven media, composites and unique microfiber textiles. These materials offer properties needed in an application where service life and change cycle are extended, demanding additional features from filter materials unknown just a decade ago.

The future challenge for filter media in automotive engine applications has to do with tighter tolerances and on-board engine control to protect instruments such as mass-air-flow sensors (MAF). These filters must contribute to decreasing engine wear, particularly for the heavy duty segment. The future will also show the need to remove smaller and smaller particles. Multi-stage filter systems may become the rule and not the exception.

Synthetic nonwovens have already played an important role in these efforts and we believe their market share will drastically increase. It is, however, a misconception that this will happen overnight. Dedication, resources and commitment of a few media manufacturers so far has resulted in the penetration of these relatively new materials, passing tests and meeting tough requirements, thus having brought success. The diversity of microfiber/melt blown/ spunbonded technology will further contribute to these efforts. The challenge for filter media as well as filter element manufacturers is to develop a small enough package to meet many of these requirements (higher efficiency, longer life, reduced pressure differential, etc.) without, in general terms, providing a "larger" filter. Space is a commodity in engine filtration second only to cost. Much will be governed by the demand for extended surface life, a major objective of numerous auto companies worldwide.

Another aspect is the new platform and "system supplier" policy, which created a 6-8 year model cycle, crucial for major players and important to any supplier to the automotive industry.

Cabin Air Filtration Remains Strong Market
Cabin air filtration, on the other hand, has been the most promising new automotive application for the last 5-6 years. We believe that approximately 38 million units will be sold by the end of 1998, representing a filter media market for nonwoven media of approximately 15-16 million square meters. Filter Media Consulting has closely followed these developments since the late 1980's. It was not, however, until the early/mid 1990's that this application, notably in Europe, became a major automotive filtration application. If the pace continues, this market could represent 20 million units in North America by the year 2003.

The latest developments are so-called combination filters that not only remove particulates and pollen but also cigarette smoke, toxic gas and odor. There are numerous concepts in the market, all based on activated carbon media often in combination with electrostatically charged nonwovens historically removing fine particulates. The trend to combination filters is governed by the decision of major automotive manufacturers to make these filters standard equipment. So far a few European companies have decided to go ahead. In North America at least one major platform will have the combination filter as an option. Several 1999 minivan models from General Motors also offer the combination filter as an option. At this time Europe is leading with approximately 12% of all filters to be combination/odor removing filters by the end of 1998.

There are several global manufacturers of automotive cabin filters; Freudenberg is by far number one with manufacturing on at least three continents. We expressed many years ago that we believe one day all new, manufactured cars will have cabin air filters as standard equipment. This may take at least another 5-7 years, however, particularly looking at the current economic situation. The general trend to combination filters will continue; therefore, the need for filter media concepts that offer odor removing and high particulate efficiency properties together with longer service life—a critical balance not easily accomplished—will also continue.

The previous article is excerpted from an extensive multi-client market report entitled "Worldwide Automotive Filtration," recently published by Filter Media Consulting, LaGrange, GA. Part One, on "Engine Filtration," is available for $1450 and Part Two, "Cabin Air Filtration," for $1800. The combined report is available for $2700. For more information: Filter Media Consulting, P.O. Box 2819, LaGrange, GA 30241-2189; 706-882-3108; Fax: 706-882-3039.


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