Lightweighting summit: Targeting composites auto powertrain opportunities

The Lightweight Composites Solution Conference, held May 17 in Gent, Belgium, focused on materials and designs for reducing automotive powertrain weight.

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The Lightweight Composites Solution Conference, held May 17 in Gent, Belgium, focused on materials and designs for reducing automotive powertrain weight. Organized by Vyncolit NV (Gent, Belgium) and parent company Sumitomo Bakelite Co. (Tokyo, Japan), the event brought together more than 50 experts from leading OEMs, suppliers and research institutes in the field of automotive lightweighting, including automakers  Nissan Motors (Yokohama, Japan), Volkswagen (Wolfsburg, Germany), Renault Nissan Mitsubishi (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and R&D/design orgainzations, including FEV Europe (Aachen, Germany), Brembo (Curno, Italy), the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology (ICT, Pfintzal, Germany), and more.

A key message delivered at the summit, according to a Vyncolit and Sumitomo Bakelite, is that designers and builders of auto powertrains of all descriptions — conventional, hybrid and fully electric — will need to lightweight their products to a greater degree if carmakers are to meet the stringent regulations on carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) that will come into force in 2025 — and composites will be key to making this happen. For example, the European fleet average emissions requirement for new cars in 2021 is 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer. By 2025, this could be reduced further to 75 grams of CO2 per kilometer. The average emissions level of a new car sold in 2016 was 118.1 grams of CO2 per kilometer. given that the powertrain accounts for 32% of an electric vehicle’s weight, reducing this figure will be a key to enabling these vehicles to travel further on a single charge, thus the use of smaller, less-expensive batteries.

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The managing director of Vyncolit NV, Pieter Vanderstraeten, told conference delegates: “All OEMs, have a lot of work to do in the next six to seven years. Lightweighting will be key in hitting these targets, regardless of the drivetrains employed.”

Nissan’s general manager of planning group, powertrain technology and prototype development department, Kimio Nishimura, outlined the OEM’s mid-term plan “M.O.V.E to 2022” to accelerate the electrification of its vehicles in order to hit the CO2 targets. He highlighted the need for compact, efficient and powerful motors, and heat-resistant, thermally conductive and low-permittivity (i.e., the ability to resist an electric field) materials for their construction. 

For example, Fraunhofer ICT’s Lars-Fredrik Berg talked delegates through the DEmiL project, the aim of which is to develop a direct-cooled electric motor with an integrated lightweight housing that delivers power on a consistent basis. A highly filled, low-viscosity epoxy from Sumitomo Bakelite is used to overmold the motor’s stator. Channels are formed during this transfer molding process that help to cool the active materials, helping to produce a motor with a very high weight-specific power output. Further, Vyncolit NV’s chief innovation and technology officer Hendrik De Keyser told delegates that the use of phenolic resin for the manufacture of brake pads can cut the weight of the brake systems in a car by 1 kg.

Conference chair, Fraunhofer ICT Institute leader Frank Henning, noted, “Two thirds of all innovations are based on developments in materials science. Materials seem to be old economy, but they are enablers of the new economy.”

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