Thermoset Products to Support Eco-friendly Vehicles of the Future

Towards environmental friendliness for automobiles desired all over the world

Climate change caused by global warming is impacting our lives in various ways, including abnormal weather in different parts of the world and rising sea levels. Reducing CO2 emissions (Graph 1), which are one of the causes of global warming, is included in the Paris Agreement and SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) as a shared issue that must be urgently addressed by each country’s government and companies. Notably, there is intense attention on making automobiles, which are a major source of CO2 emissions, environmentally friendly (Graph 2).

The IEA’s EPT 2012 2°C Scenario (2DS) (Graph 3) includes estimations of the future around the world based on different powertrains*1. It is predicted that if by 2040 we do not ensure that 80% of vehicles are electric, which includes simple electric vehicles (EV), fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), hybrid vehicles with internal combustion engines (HV), and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHV), the worldwide temperature will rise more than 2°C. Further, by 2050 CO2 emissions from personal vehicles (Graph 2) are predicted to exceed 9.5 billion tons, and it is expected that this will greatly exceed the 1.7 billion tons that is the COP21 goal.

It is calculated that, because countries around the world cannot meet their targets in terms of strengthening emission regulations by 5% each year from 2020, stronger regulations of 8% per year will be necessary. Meanwhile, according to the statistical data (Graph 3), there are many issues with respect to EV, diesel, will not differ much from that of today. We must once again recognize that we are in a situation where CO2 reduction policies concerning automobiles are now or never. In these circumstances, the move towards electric vehicles has accelerated in China, which is urgently passing measures against serious air pollution, and in Europe due to the impact of the diesel fuel consumption fraud.

The environment surrounding automobiles has begun to turn to eco-friendly cars in a big way, with the UK and France announcing that sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines will end in 2040, China introducing the NEV rules*2 in 2019, and the ZEV regulation*3 of California in the US. Looking 30 or 40 years into the future, eco-friendly automobiles such as electric vehicles, fuel-cell electric vehicles, and vehicles with highly efficient internal combustion engines will surely be mainstream all over the world.

Sumitomo Bakelite is responsible for the research, development, production, and sales of a great variety of materials for automotive components, and is responding to these trends with a global system.

Reducing body weight and improving fuel economy through thermoset resins

Initiatives by automobile and component manufacturers regarding eco-friendly vehicles have at their foundation CO2 emission reductions, both direct and indirect. Automobile manufacturers have previously engaged in reducing the weight of vehicle bodies and improving the fuel efficiency of the engine, and the need for this has further increased in recent years with the development of electric cars and exhaust gas regulations. For example, the weight of electric vehicles has increased compared to that of vehicles with conventional internal combustion engines due to the inclusion of a large battery. Moreover, a higher-power, long-life battery is needed to increase mileage, and the reality is that with our current technology we must use a large battery. For this reason, discussions about improving battery performance, such as that of solid-state batteries, are moving forward, but on the other hand we also need to reduce the weight of the vehicle body.

Using plastic components as alternatives for metal components in automobiles began in the 1980s, and by around 2010 all possible components that could be made of resin, including those around the engine under the hood and in the vicinity of the brakes, had been replaced. Our company has a track record in making appropriate use of phenolic resin, notably with thermal-load components and components requiring dimensional accuracy. We are currently promoting metal alternatives for parts relating to the bodies of powertrains in eco-friendly vehicles, and for parts that are conventionally required to be metal due to its strength and heat resistance. In order to accomplish this, we have set up “sbDRIVE™”, a metal alternative concept for the vehicles of the future, through the development of our original new materials and processing techniques that make use of the advantages of thermoset resins such as phenolic resin and epoxy resin, and are providing various solutions from materials to proposals for resin components.

The “sbDRIVE™” Concept Developed in Europe Promotes a Reduction in CO2 from the Automobile Society

Vyncolit NV (Group company of Sumitomo Bakelite)

The phenolic materials that we produce help to substantially reduce the weight of automobiles, contributing to a cleaner society. Taking the example of internal combustion engine technology, we can make automobiles lighter by combining large, functional components associated with the engine.

Sumitomo Bakelite has created the concept of “sbDRIVE™”. This is a marketing concept that proposes a resin solution for large, heavy automobile components such as engines, electric powertrains, and brake systems, aiming to develop strategic technology in the automobile industry. In addition to our core business of materials development, our sbDRIVE Demo Center has been established at Vyncolit NV (Belgium), where we are focusing our efforts on developing production solutions for commercialization, prototypes, and components. In the sbDRIVE Demo Center, you can create components of up to 3 kg in one go as well as seeing the manufacturing process, completely automated are able to understwith a robotic function.

Customersand with one glance how we are able to construct a safe production line and provide metal alternatives for larger automobile parts at the sbDRIVE Demo Center.

We also carry out jointly developed product prototyping (creating prototypes for testing), useful for smooth cooperation and communication with customers.

In recent years the electrification of powertrains has been promoted, and “sbDRIVE™” offers further market opportunities and provides new solutions for electric motor housing using sealing technologies for electronic components. We are also in the process of developing a composite solution for brake systems. Composite brake pads could reduce the weight of a single vehicle by over 1 kg. The commonalities of all of our “sbDRIVE™” activities are that they combine knowledge of materials, prototyping, and developing a completely automated production system, and these are developed in cooperation with the automotive industry. We believe that having a development activity “brand” is important for building the Sumitomo Bakelite Group’s identity as a solution provider.

Weighing 500 tons, one of the world’s largest machines for thermoset injection molding (sbDRIVE Demo Center)

The TM2 Concept, an engine concept made from thermoset resin conceived by Vyncolit NV

The “sbDRIVE™” concept was established a few years ago to create long-term sustainable growth for Sumitomo Bakelite through technology development, along with major automobile manufacturers and component manufacturers in the automotive industry. It is important that we make value creation for our end customers and society the goal of our technology development.

By starting this initiative, we are making our development abilities in the automotive industry well known, and differentiating ourselves from conventional application development.

【Example of joint development】 Development of a plastic motorcycle engine

Sumitomo Bakelite has developed a plastic motorcycle engine with Fraunhofer ICT.

It uses a cylinder housing made of glass-fiber reinforced phenolic molding compounds, resistant against loads, wear, fuel, and coolant, which will be implemented as part of a single-cylinder motorcycle engine from BMW. The results of performance experiments offer proof that this engine is not inferior to conventional aluminum engines in terms of performance. In addition, it is around 20% lighter, noise and heat are suppressed, and the manufacturing costs are lower.

Sumitomo Bakelite and the Fraunhofer ICT exchanged a comprehensive tie-up agreement relating to the creation of resin automobile components in 2017. Based on the agreement, a variety of research and development teams are being started, including those at Vyncolit NV. In the future, we will promote research in order to develop and make use of materials that can demonstrate excellent functionality in terms of the environmental friendliness, with a focus on electric vehicles.

BMW single-cylinder engine for a motorcycle

- Comment from our collaborator -

Q. What do you think about phenolic materials as materials for engines?

We believe that introducing thermoset materials such as phenolic resins for components that are exposed to high heat underneath the hood of a car is the key to expanding the use of resin composite materials.

This is because phenolic composite materials can meet the levels of mechanical strength, heat resistance, and chemical resistance needed for the components of an automotive engine. It is also suited for producing large-capacity components, and is cost competitive when compared to light-weight alloys.

Q. Why are you cooperating wi Q th Vyncolit NV ?

Fraunhofer is always seeking partners with whom to carry out innovative research and development activities.

In 2012, we had a plan where we officially announced resin engine blocks. At that time, people in the automotive industry thought that it was impossible to realize this, but Vyncolit NV alone clearly demonstrated the possibility, and so we decided to work with them.

  • Fraunhofer ICT
    This organization has 72 institutes and independent research units in Germany, and is the largest organization for applied research in Europe. Research of practical utility is at the heart of the practical research carried out by the Fraunhofer ICT in a variety of scientific and technology fields.

Q. What do you think about Vyncolit NV as a partner?

Our cooperation with Vyncolit NV has been ideal when it comes to furthering our core competence (competitive advantage).

Having made Vyncolit NV our partner, we have been able to jointly cover the whole development chain, from developing materials to evaluating components while approaching potential customers, and we know that this partnership is beneficial to us.

Contributing to the Promotion of Eco-friendly Cars with a Global Research and Development Network

High Performance Plastic Technology Development Laboratory

With initiatives and rising demands for global environmental friendliness in the background, various countries and automobile manufacturers have rapidly advanced the development of eco-friendly vehicles in recent years. In these circumstances, Sumitomo Bakelite is carrying out technology development, mainly centered on Japanese research, that will contribute to environmental friendliness in the near future by sharing information and coordinating technologies with bases around the world. Notably, in Europe, which is leading the development of electric cars, we are verifying the practical use of the potential of a next-generation resin engine made by Vyncolit NV, part of the Sumitomo Bakelite Group, with cooperation from the Fraunhofer ICT. In addition to demonstrating the high potential of realizing a substantial weight reduction and improving fuel efficiency, we have also proven that this engine is wonderfully quiet. The results of this verification have had repercussions all over the world. We are also exploring this at the High Performance Plastic (HPP) Technology Development Laboratory in Japan, and Japanese automobile manufacturers have expressed very keen interest in the proposed technologies that will reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency. The technology of the next-generation resin engine is not only being applied to engines; there is also the potential to use it for new powertrains such as the electric motors indispensable to electric cars, inverters, and the steps to modularize these. Our thermoset materials are useful as a reduced weight technology that makes use of the electrical insulation properties unique to resin.

We are spreading information from Japan to the world about the alternative uses of these accumulated technologies in electric vehicles, and are promoting its use in next-generation eco-friendly vehicles. We believe that, many years in the future, eco-friendly vehicles that use reduced weight technologies will be in active use the world over.

In terms of the development of conventional automotive components, as resin manufacturers, we are developing efficient materials that are requested by our customers, with most of these limited to supply. However, the most recent need for reduced weight means that there are many components that are difficult to simply exchange for other materials.

Sumitomo Bakelite has advanced technology development and expertise with an established track record in phenolic resin, molding compounds, and molded parts. This expertise is applied and used to its full extent, making it possible to come up with new solutions. By taking part from the concept stage of the development of the customer’s product, we are able to develop the most appropriate resin and compounds; we are also able to propose new solutions, from suggestions for shapes that fully make use of the resin materials to processing methods, from the unique perspective of a resin manufacturer with expertise in metal alternatives gathered over a long period of time, and are creating metal alternatives in cooperation with customers. We will continue to make use of our global support system while meeting the expectations of customers and markets in each of our research laboratories around the world, striving to create products that will contribute to the wider environment and society, including the automotive industry.

Electric automobile motor development engineers and marketing members

Sumitomo Bakelite’s Future Mission for the Environment

As we stated above, there is a tendency for electric vehicles to have increased weight when compared to vehicles with conventional internal combustion engines, due to the increased number of electronic components and battery. In order to offset this, we are implementing a proposal to increase the number of components made of metal alternatives. Up until now, many of the components that are made of resin and have reduced weight are palm-sized, and phenolic resin components inside an automobile weigh around 0.5 kg to 2 kg. Sumitomo Bakelite is aiming to increase this to 20 kg to 50 kg, contributing to the reduction of CO2 and increased fuel efficiency by reducing the weight of automobiles.

In Europe, we have been able to develop technologies that we would not have been able to achieve alone by joining consortiums in different fields. We have also been able to discover the potential of applying resin materials to components that were lumps of metal, for example engines, electric motors, transmissions, brake systems, power control units, and inverters. The Sumitomo Bakelite Group is playing a part in environmentally-friendly automobile manufacturing, along with automotive and component manufacturers in not only Japan but also in Europe, America, and China.

Call or email us about CSR.