Sustainability is a global megatrend, which has taken hold in the automotive industry. Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly using a mixture of man-made and natural materials in cars, as well as recycled materials.
Car manufacturers are primarily looking to reduce vehicle weight by using alternative materials and material combinations. For example, nonwovens were once just used in non-visible functional components, but not any longer. They are also now being found in visible areas, such as the vehicle interior, to make sustainability a direct sensory experience for the driver.
In one recent example, nonwovens from recycled carbon fiber play a key role in the production of the BMW i3, the world’s first purpose-designed electric vehicle.
With a total investment of roughly €600 million in the i production, the company says that very high standards of sustainability and resource efficiency have been achieved in the selection of materials and production processes employed.
This is the first time that carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) has been used in automotive volume production and the body structure of the BMW i3 consists entirely of the extremely lightweight and durable material, compensating for the extra weight of the batteries for the electric drive system.
The BMW i3 is the first ever model with an outer skin made entirely of composites, the only exception being the roof, which is made of recycled carbon fiber nonwovens. The carbon outer skin is also produced using 25% recycled or renewable material.
The i3 represents a huge milestone in the next evolution of automotive production. It requires 50% less energy and 70% less water, and the source of electric energy for production of the BMW i models is CO2-free as it comes from wind turbines at the plant.
The Coca-Cola Company and Ford Motor Company are also fueling more sustainable design by collaborating on a first-ever interior fabric made from the same renewable material used to produce Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle Technology packaging.
The two companies unveiled a Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid vehicle with Coca-Cola PlantBottle Technology interior fabric surfaces covering seat cushions, seat backs, head restraints, door panel inserts and headliners. The research vehicle marks the first time PlantBottle Technology is applied beyond packaging.
Fabric made from PlantBottle Technology consists of up to 30% plant-based materials, showing the broad potential of two global consumer icons to leverage renewable materials to help replace petroleum and other fossil fuels used for traditional PET fabric.
These kinds of groundbreaking technologies and processes are redefining sustainability with regard to personal mobility. And as vehicle manufacturers continue to look for alternative materials to meet the evolving sustainability standards of our times, nonwovens
Tim Wright • editor