Plastics for the mobility of today and (beyond) tomorrow
Plastics are the material of unlimited possibilities. Wherever they are used, they make a tangible contribution to our quality of life. And they ensure that we can be resource-efficiently mobile – even if this is unfortunately limited in times of pandemic. Starting with tires made of rubber, their versatile properties and numerous applications make today’s vehicles more efficient and safer, more comfortable and more beautiful – and tomorrow’s mobility possible in the first place.
Safety for drivers and pedestrians
Plastics in cars are already saving lives. In airbags, windshields, and modular seats, they ensure that vehicle occupants are safer on the road. Front-end modules and energy-absorbing hang-on parts help prevent injuries for pedestrians. Fiber-reinforced polyamides, for example, are not only lighter but also absorb significantly more energy than steel, for example.
Driving high-performance computers
When Hermann Staudinger wrote his essay on polymers one hundred years ago, the electrical system of a car was limited to very few components. Today, a car is much more like a computer on the move. Electrical components automate systems ranging from ABS to driver assistance systems to GPS. Plastics like PBT make this possible.
Living room on wheels
The next step in autonomous driving would be inconceivable without plastics. In the driving living room of the future, the number of sensors will increase significantly Radar, lidar, IR and ultrasonic sensors not only assist as lane assistants, but also as collision warning systems, distance controllers and emergency braking systems. They read the road so that the driver can turn his attention to more pleasant things. Plastics are needed to make the vision of autonomous driving a reality with safety.
Under the hood
Modern vehicle design ensures that the conditions for materials under the hood are becoming increasingly demanding. Automakers are therefore turning to high-temperature polymers, thus simultaneously saving weight and costs and extending the service life of vehicles. Even if there is no longer a classic combustion engine under the hood, plastics are still indispensable. Lightweight, flame-retardant plastics, for example, are crucial for saving weight and space around the heavy batteries. Refueling is done with charging cables made of TPU – and even in fuel cells, high-performance lightweight polymers play a huge role.
Plastics have already revolutionized the design of car interiors once – and they will do so again. ABS and polypropylene already form the basis for the lightweight, durable and low-emission design of consoles, doors and instrument panels. Polyurethanes enable lightweight and comfortable seats, durable upholstery, and keep distracting noise and vibration out of the cabin. With connected and autonomous vehicles, the next revolution is already around the corner. The autonomous family car is transforming into a driving entertainment center with smart, multifunctional surfaces, seamless design and appealing haptics – unthinkable without polymers.
Sustainable on the road
Polymers are younger than the automobile, which was invented back in 1886. But they have played a major role in shaping its development and will do so to an even greater extent in the future. Today, polymers are already ensuring that CO2 emissions are reduced, recycling targets are met and air quality is improved. Only with plastics will we master the journey toward more efficient vehicles with lower emissions and thus get from A to B sustainably in the future – and this applies not only to cars, by the way, but also to trains, buses and airplanes.
Photos: BASF SE