Clariant, a Swiss specialty chemicals company, has launched Hydrocerol, a chemical foaming agent that it says can help automakers cut the weight of many interior plastic parts without affecting performance or looks, and enable better fuel economy and material cost savings of 5 percent.
While foaming has been used previously for mass reduction, the company says that previous agents could not create the consistent, high-quality surface finish automakers and their customers demand, so applications were limited to parts that were hidden from view. Clariant says Hydrocerol has a durable foam cell structure and will be able to reduce car weight by 5 percent to 20 percent while offering surface quality.
The company has used it on components molded from nylon, polymers and in parts with up to 30 percent glass, and is also working on adapting the foaming agent for use in plastic parts in door liners, ceiling and instrument panels.
Mass reduction, or lightweighting, has become a new focus because of fuel economy mandates in the US and in Europe. While plastics comprise only a small portion of a vehicle’s overall weight, every bit of reduction helps reduce emissions, Clariant says. Improvements in the chemical foaming agent technology have enabled it to reduce foam cell structure to 60 microns in diameter, compared with first-generation foam cells that measured 300 microns a few years ago.
Parts treated with the agent can still be painted, provided the mass reduction is limited to 7 percent. A 1 percent application of Hydrocerol can lead to a 5 percent or more reduction in material costs, but the benefits from improving process exceed the cost benefits, the company says. The chemical reaction that creates the foam absorbs heat, so that less heat needs to be removed from the polymer after molding and processing cycles are shorter. Shorter cycle times mean machine and labor productivity can be increased by as much as 20 percent.
Clariant also says its foaming agent has scrubbing properties that can prevent corrosion in injection molds from moisture, CO2 and acids that are typical byproducts of the foaming process.
A DuPont survey published last week shows the increasing value for lightweighting vehicles, and says every system in the vehicle is a candidate for reduced mass. Lightweighting is core to meeting new US and EU emissions standards and one that is growing in value, according to more than 60 percent of respondents.