Using the right materials to accelerate the shift to EVs

SABIC’s Global Automotive Lead for EV batteries and electricals, Dhanendra Nagwanshi, looks at why the right materials are essential for accelerating the shift to electric vehicles.

According to the International Energy Agency, road transport accounts for 16 per cent of global emissions. An efficient and fundamental pathway towards reducing those emissions is through electric vehicles (EVs).

Yet despite technological advancements in the past decade and increased public consideration of EVs, many consumers remain sceptical, whether it is the cost, a lack of public infrastructure, or concerns around EV battery capabilities (i.e. range and safety). These perceived and actual barriers constrain EV adoption, and ultimately hamper the fight against climate change and the world’s shared mission to lower emissions. So what can we do?

We believe an important part of the answer lies in rethinking how we make EVs and related products. Rather than relying on legacy design and engineering practices, which are primarily based on use of metals, the industry would benefit from exploring new approaches.

This includes carefully assessing the use of materials in next-generation EVs. As a chemicals company, we understand that materials have the power to make a positive impact on the world. Everything in life, after all, is made of materials. They are ineluctably integrated into the design and manufacturing of all products in our daily lives.

Vehicles today are made up of about 50 per cent plastic, though this is only 10 per cent of their weight. And with increased recognition of the role plastics can play in improving vehicles and building a more sustainable future, their use continues to grow.

For EVs, innovative materials from SABIC can help address various challenges. Our plastics can help optimise performance for increased efficiency and extended driving range and potentially help automakers address cost challenges and improve affordability. 

We offer material solutions that can support the development of products that come from different parts of the EV ecosystem – from the numerous components that make up the heart of the vehicle – the battery pack – to large-area panels that replace redundant grilles on the front of EVs, EV charging and energy storage applications.

SABIC has assembled a global team of scientists and specialists to help the industry along this journey of building ever-better EVs. Today, all of our efforts fall under a larger focused initiative known as BLUEHERO, designed to help our customers and their value chain partners advance the development of electrically-powered products. 

All value chain participants play a role. No one actor can make the shift to electrification all on their own. That is why we operate with collaboration integrated as one of the pillars of our electrification initiative. We believe this is what makes change happen.

Working with industry is already leading to ground-breaking developments. For example, with Honda and automotive supplier Sanko Gosei in China, we helped create the industry’s first battery pack cover in plastic – for a plug-in hybrid EV. Use of SABIC’s material instead of metal helped cut 40% in weight, while the plastic’s flame retardant properties enabled compliance with that country’s strict fire safety regulations for EVs.

In addition to dropping weight to help support improved efficiency and range and ensuring compliance with fire safety standards, plastics from SABIC can help enhance EV battery systems in a number of ways: expanded design freedom for increased integration of parts and less complexity, easier assembly and manufacturing, lower costs, enhanced thermal management and reduced environmental impact. 

The opportunities created by plastics with their high strength-to-weight ratio, inherent formability and many other beneficial properties seem limitless and we are excited to bring the value of these materials to the EV industry.

Those materials, and the expertise and solutions that we can deliver, we believe, can serve as catalysts for re-thinking the design, engineering and production of EVs. And in that way, we are striving to do our part to help encourage robust innovation in this space so EV technologies can evolve, faster, and help remove barriers to greater EV adoption.

Electric vehicles can drive change. They can help us reach global net zero targets and move us ever closer to a clean air economy. And plastics and materials engineering will be a critical ally to help our world get there.

Image courtesy of SABIC.

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