Future Sustainable Car Materials

Future Sustainable Car Materials (FSCM)— Making autos more sustainable

In dialogue

Thursday, November 30, 2023, 8 a.m.: BMW Research and Innovation Center, Munich (Germany)
It is snowing heavily as Martin Derks (Head of the FSCM consortium, BMW Group), Martin Schneebauer (Project Manager Plastics, BMW Group), Dr. Patrick Glöckner (Head of the Circular Economy Program at Evonik), and Kathrin Lehmann (Head of Applied Plastics Additives at Evonik) meet at the FIZ, the BMW Research and Innovation Center in Munich (Germany). Today’s topic is Future Sustainable Car Materials. This project consortium is led by BMW with Evonik as a key partner in the area of plastics, and receives funding from the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

»We work continuously to reduce the carbon footprint of our cars. The materials we use play a major role.« Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Martin Derks
»Collaboration and teamwork are vital to make circularity a success. By building up ecosystems, we can develop a functioning circular economy along our value chains.« Dr. Patrick Glöckner
The project team inspecting plastic components made from recycled materials and taking a close look at samples of possible applications in cars.

Martin Derks: Patrick, thank you for coming along to our Research and Innovation Center today. We’ve known each other for some years and set up the Future Sustainable Car Materials (FSCM) project together. This project is about the development of key materials in the automotive value chain. One focus of the project is metals. Here we’re improving the efficiency of the direct recycling of rejects, increasing the secondary aluminum content, and developing high-strength steel grades to reduce weight and increase material efficiency. At the same time, we’re looking into lower CO2 production routes for the production of steel and aluminum. In plastics, we’re concentrating on increasing the content of secondary raw materials and integrating mechanical recyclates into interior and exterior applications. We’re also working on new concepts to replace paint and exploring the use of bio-based plastics to reduce CO2 emissions even further. Today, we want to talk about the challenges and progress in the area of plastics. What are you working on at the moment?

Patrick Glöckner: I’m specifically looking at the European Union’s Circular Economy Action Plan, which is a central element in the European Green Deal. One aspect that affects both of us is the end-of-life vehicles regulation, which is designed to push the automotive industry towards a circular economy. What makes it particularly interesting and exciting is that we began working together on this topic long before the EU started to discuss it intensely. It was back in 2020 that we first talked about a project that could set new standards for plastics recycling in the automotive industry.

Martin: Looking back, I’m really happy we did start our collaboration in 2020. We welcome the fact that politicians are setting guidelines and frameworks. Circularity is a topic that’s important for society; it affects us all. We recognized early the challenges of a circular economy for plastics. That’s why we initiated the FSCM project, a cross-industry alliance to tackle the challenges together. However, that can only work if we all get together around the same table.

Patrick: Precisely. Together, we ensure that the project covers the entire value chain. Large corporations like BMW and Evonik are involved, but to close the loop, we also have partners from the SME sector. Now we understand the challenges facing some players and the hurdles for the others. BMW is a premium partner, and we discuss the hurdles openly and constructively so that we can find solutions.

Martin: Patrick, that’s exactly how I see it, too. Our customers expect us to deliver a sustainable, premium product. We don’t see anything incompatible in that. Our cars already contain a secondary raw material content of up to 30 percent. Closed loop post-consumer recycling in the automotive industry requires everyone involved to work together closely. Coated plastics are a good example. Cars contain a lot of coated plastics. The challenge for the future is sorting and processing these materials so that they can be returned to the closed loop with the highest possible proportion of recycled materials.

Patrick: That involves some incompatible aspects that need to be tackled. On the one hand: high performance. For example, the paintwork must not peel off during use. On the other hand, stripping the paintwork from plastic components after use needs to be quick and complete so that it is economically viable. That’s exactly where specialties offer solutions, and that’s where Evonik comes in. Our specialty additives facilitate cleaning by recyclers and can enable high-quality plastic blends. Therefore, the companies involved in this project are a perfect fit.

Martin:I’m convinced that many of the challenges are solvable. Take paintwork for example. It doesn’t only look appealing; it also has a protective function. Without it, the polymers would degrade, in other words, they would age faster. Fortunately, there are solutions to overcome the challenges of paint stripping. That enables us to avoid downcycling plastics and return them to the automotive loop. Targeted research has the goal of ensuring recycled plastics are equivalent so they can be kept in the closed loop. That means that the properties of the recycled materials need to be identical to those of the primary materials. That’s what our customers expect from us. At the same time, it’s one of the biggest challenges for the plastics industry and confronts us with a massive transformation.

Patrick: In this project, we show how this transformation can be achieved with partners along the value chain.

Martin: There are 19 different partners in the Future Sustainable Car Materials project. We look at the entire value chain, strive to find new solutions for sustainable materials, and examine the possibility of using biopolymers. That includes considering how components can be designed in the future to make recycling more economical. Examples are the use of monomaterials and developing new logistics chains for waste streams. The use of different material qualities also plays a part. The chemical industry and Evonik in particular can play an important role to ensuring that recycled polymers meet the same quality standards as new materials. By that I mean mechanical properties, appearance, color, odor, and minimizing the carbon footprint of the product.

Patrick: Working together at all stages in the value chain is exactly what the circular economy is all about. The FSCM project offers us a big chance to benefit from the different skill sets of the various partners involved. One aspect that we rarely had to consider in the chemical industry in the past was “Where does the material actually come from, and what are its properties?” Now we have to ensure that high volumes of recyclates of varying quality can be used without impairing the performance profile. Those are big challenges. Customers want cars with recycled materials yet make premium demands on their quality and characteristics. The goal of the additives we are developing is to match those requirements.

Martin: One thing which helps us in the FSCM project is digitalization. We’re using the Catena-X data ecosystem, which provides the necessary data format for the digital fingerprint of the materials. It’s also a platform for collaboration. Evaluating the data supports standardization and will also create value for the companies involved. It will help drive forward the value chain. That can become a real locational advantage for Europe and Germany.

Patrick: As you say, standardization and harmonization are only possible by digitalizing the value chain. Recyclers need to know what plastics are being delivered to them and how they can be recycled most effectively so that the product can be used, for example, as a new fender in a new vehicle.

»To produce a high-quality recyclate, it’s essential that the paint can be stripped completely and efficiently from the old components.« Kathrin Lehmann
»One future challenge is separating and processing plastics so they can be re-used in the closed loop, with a high recyclate content.« Martin Schneebauer
BMW is working to increase the recycled content of cars, especially in interior components.
Future Sustainable Car Materials

The Future Sustainable Car Materials (FSCM) project led by the BMW Group brings together 19 partners from industry and research to facilitate the transition to circular and low-carbon value chains for plastics and metals in automotive production.

This three-year project, which receives funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, focuses on sustainable material concepts for the future.

In the podcast

Martin Schneebauer and Kathrin Lehmann in conversation about…
… the challenges of recycling plastics in the automotive sector.

Kathrin Lehmann and Martin Schneebauer in the podcast

In the videos

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Martin Derks and Dr. Patrick Glöckner in conversation about…
… the Future Sustainable Car Materials consortium project.
Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Martin Derks and Dr. Patrick Glöckner in conversation about…
… Digitisation.
Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Martin Derks and Dr. Patrick Glöckner in conversation about…
… Recycling.
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