How chemistry drives automotive success
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How chemistry drives automotive success

10:55 AM, 9th February 2017
BASF's next generation diect ozone reduction catalyic converter technology, PremAir NXT
BASF's next generation direct ozone reduction catalytic converter technology, PremAir NXT.

BASF’s continued contribution to enhanced automotive technology and components engineering has been amply demonstrated in recent times. As India gears up for an exponential increase in automotive sales, lighter, more efficient and safer vehicles are needed.

By Sylvain Huguenard & Harindranath Revanur

According to Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, India has one of lowest vehicle density at 15 cars per thousand people as compared to USA at 800, Brazil at 200, and China at 60. This indicates a quantum of growth India can achieve and it is supported by promising factors such as young population and rising income, justifies expectations for growth.

Until 2015, the production of passenger vehicles was stagnant, with a total of 3.2 million units. However, since then, there has been a noticeable acceleration of growth, driven by higher domestic demand, which is expected to touch 3.5 million units in 2016. All automotive production forecasts position India next to Southeast Asia as the growth engine for the next ten years. By 2022, we may witness a situation where production could surge to 5.5 million units, taking India to fourth place in the global rankings, after China, USA and Japan.

Sustaining this high rate of growth requires many innovations to upgrade the automotive sector’s capabilities: in design, durability, efficiency and manufacturing.

Enforcement of more stringent regulations related to safety (such as crash tests), fuel economy and exhaust emissions through Bharat Stage IV and Bharat Stage VI will also have a major impact on future automotive designs and technologies.

Simultaneously, consumer awareness and knowledge is on the rise and is becoming more demanding than ever in terms of aesthetics and comfort.

Therefore, the Indian automotive sector must elevate itself from the concept of what works for India to what works at high levels in line with global standards. This is the cornerstone of many innovations across a gamut of automotive components and products, encompassing car exteriors, interiors and powertrain.

Solutions from the world of chemistry

BASF’s automotive solutions range from high-performance plastics, coatings and fuel additives to catalysts, battery materials, brake fluids and chemicals for leather and textiles.

To enable car manufacturers to meet safety norms, BASF provides products ranging from braking components to airbag housings and bumper stiffeners. 

BASF products protect passengers from more severe injuries in a crash by absorbing impacting energy – like a protective shield. For example, housing for the passenger airbag used in the new Audi Q7 is made with BASF’s Ultramid® polyamide. Ultramid® B3ZG8 contains 40 percent glass fibres and it has also been impact-modified. As a result, it is sufficiently elastic under cold conditions but also rigid enough at high temperatures. This plastic is lighter than and easier to process than magnesium. It also exhibits good flame-retardant behaviour.

The Indian Government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards mandate an average fuel efficiency increase from 18.2 km/Lt in 2016-17 to 22 km/Lt by the year 2021-22, representing a formidable challenge. 

As the world’s leading chemical supplier to the automotive industry, BASF is a key partner in efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from cars with combustion engines. The company’s solutions span a broad range of speciality areas including catalysts, coatings, engineering plastics, polyurethane and speciality foams, lubricants, fuel additives, pigments, binders and battery materials.

BASF produces a number of products to assist in the reduction of CO2 for the automotive industry including:

Engineering plastics: Replacing metal parts with engineering plastic materials can reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy. New applications are constantly in development for today’s automobiles, which use about 15 percent of various plastic materials. For example, reducing the weight of a car by 100 pounds cuts fuel consumption by about 1 percent. Additionally, engineering plastic solutions such as BASF’s Ultramid® polyamides provide high performance under demanding conditions including intense heat, all with reduced weight.

Polyurethane and speciality foams: BASF offers polyurethane solutions for use in virtually every part of the vehicle that needs to maintain high strength and low weight. 

Binders: An increasing number of car manufacturers use natural fibre composites for lightweight components such as door linings, storage compartments and other car interior parts. BASF’s Acrodur® binder brings adhesive and strengthening properties to various types of natural fibre, in addition to facilitating environmentally friendly solutions for car interiors. Natural fibre composites cured with Acrodur® can reduce weight by up to 20 percent over natural fibre polypropylene and up to 40 percent over injection moulded ABS plastic.

Lubricants: Energy efficient lubricants from BASF help decrease fuel consumption by significantly reducing friction and wear in transmissions and axles while exceeding the expectations of fill-for-life durability requirements.

Fuel additives: BASF’s fuel additives enhance engine cleanliness, protect the fuel system and reduce the emission of harmful substances and greenhouse gases.

Pigments: BASF produces pigments that reflect infrared light. Integrated into car paint, windows or interior surfaces, these pigments help to keep the car cool in the sun, reducing the energy required for climate control.

Coatings: Pioneered more than 25 years ago, BASF’s waterborne basecoats replace most of the organic solvents to permanently reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Additionally, the company developed an integrated paint process that decreases the length of the production line, reduces CO2 emissions by up to 20 percent, saves energy costs from 15-20 percent and reduces material consumption.

Catalysts: BASF supports automotive OEMs with tailored solutions, adjusted to the specific needs of the engines or applications. With such solutions, OEMs can comply with the increasing requirements of regulation for diesel and gasoline exhaust emissions. The four-way conversion catalyst for gasoline engines combines the functionality of a three-way conversion catalyst with a gasoline particulate filter, removing four pollutants with a single component. Likewise, the SCR on Filter for diesel engine applications controls NOx (nitrogen oxides) and PM (particulate matter or soot) emissions on a single substrate. This technology combines two components, SCR (Selective Catalytic Reduction, which reduces NOx to nitrogen and water in the presence of reductant) and DPF (Diesel Particulate Filter, which filters the PM) into one.

Ground level ozone, a leading contributor to smog, can lead to serious environmental and health problems. BASF has introduced a next-generation direct ozone reduction catalytic converter technology, PremAir® NXT, to help automakers in their quest to meet these more stringent standards. As ambient air passes through the PremAir® NXT-coated radiator surface, the ozone makes contact with the coating and is eliminated, producing harmless oxygen in the process.

PremAir coating technology has been used in more than 3 million vehicles and provides ozone conversion performance over the lifetime of a vehicle.

Battery materials: In addition to improving cars with combustion engines, chemistry is also making a major contribution to the electrified vehicle market. BASF produces advanced battery materials for lithium-ion batteries, which play a key role in determining battery performance, energy density, service life and safety.

Perhaps the best glimpse of BASF’s cutting-edge insights and performance in automotive technology was offered during the recent 2016 Paris Motor Show when it showcased its exceptional RN30 concept car developed with a major South Korean car brand.

BASF’s solutions encompassed lightweight, durable and eco-friendly solutions including lightweight plastics, a huge range of aerodynamic and functional design possibilities, and eco-friendly materials to meet high-performance technologies for a superior driving experience. 

BASF today is creating chemistry for future mobility.

Why chemistry matters in automobile innovation

Groundbreaking chemistry lies at the heart of every decision to substitute a certain technology or component for another, whether one builds lightweight automobiles for everyday driving or for racing. However, merely substituting one component for another does not help. Thus, when racing cars switch to lightweight ElastolitTM rigid foam in the fender and spoiler, they can do so if innovators in chemistry have already created the former solution. 

Chemistry is also needed when developing seats that fit body contours comfortably and incorporate a sturdy roll cage to protect drivers and passengers in high speed/high impact situations. This is an innovation with Ultracom®, a thermoplastic composite system for parts with continuous fibre reinforcement, at its core. It promotes lightweight comfort as well as high tensile durability for precarious situations.

Apart from lightweight plastics and innovative cabin design to improve speed and efficiency of racing car vehicles, BASF has introduced pioneering chemistry in durable materials such as InfinergyTM foam, the world’s first expanded thermoplastic polyurethane, in the roll bar padding of the RN30, and Hydraulan® 406 ESI which extends brake elastomer durability. 

Ultramid® Advanced-N allows customers to design lighter, smaller and stronger plastic components for challenging environments where other materials reach their limits. It can be used in automotive components and structural parts near the engine and the gearbox in contact with hot, aggressive media and different fuels. Applications like gear wheels and other wear parts can be implemented, too.

BASF’s heat management solutions include near infrared reflective films which reduce heat and selectively filter out infrared light rays while allowing other light rays and telephone signals to pass through. 

Water-based Acrodur®is used to create lightweight composites for dashboards and door panels, and the waterborne ColorProTM IC basecoat offers a broad colour spectrum and a high gloss appearance. 

BASF has been offering such key products as integrated paint processes to decrease CO­2 emissions and reduce energy costs by at least 15 percent, engineered plastics to reduce vehicle weight and improve fuel economy, fuel additives to enhance engine clarity and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, speciality foams, etc.

What’s next?

Keeping the India growth story in mind, as well as the concurrent need for efficient public transport (to match the high population density in the cities) that is both functional in outlook and radical in design, an urgent need is seen for clean fuels, technology upgrades and safety of operation. As more mass transport and private automobiles take to the roads, and as the automotive industry grows to an estimated four times its current size by 20261, the need for clean chemistry in everyday urban transport is set to rise dramatically. 

There is ample potential to put these new solutions into practice in the Indian automotive market, with its high contribution to employment and the country’s GDP. As it is a relatively new growth driver for the Indian economy, the sector has the capability to create new frontiers for testing, design and production processes in manufacturing. However, there is also the need for an enabling ecosystem that ties in supportive government policies, all players in the supply-value chain and stricter norms for emissions and energy consumption per vehicle. Improving key processes, driving growth with innovative design and performance indicators, and more awareness about investing in better chemistry for higher output are all key to increasing India’s stakes in the global exports market as well as meeting the needs of India’s own future mobility.

Authors: Sylvain Huguenard is Vice President, Functional Materials & Crop Protection, BASF South Asia & Harindranath Revanur is Commercial Head, BASF Catalysts India Pvt Ltd. 

© Chemical Today Magazine

See the Story Coverage in Chemical Today magazine (Pg. 40)

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