Japanese multinational Toyoda Gosei, a developer of plastics, rubber and LED technologies, says it has developed a cellulose nanofiber (CNF)-reinforced plastic for automotive components, intended to reduce their carbon footprint throughout their lifetime, from raw material procurement and production to recycling and disposal.
The company highlights that the material features several benefits compared to traditional plastic reinforcements. CNF has one fifth the weight and five times the strength of steel, which means when used as a reinforcing material in plastic or rubber, parts can be made thinner and foam molding becomes easier. When the material is reused after vehicles are scrapped, little strength is lost from heating and melting, making recycling of automotive components possible. Third, it is a material that does not increase the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Even when CNF is incinerated, the only CO2 emitted is that which was absorbed by the plant during its growth.
The newly developed plastic combines 20% CNF in a general-purpose plastic (polypropylene) used in automobile interior and exterior components. For practical application, reduced impact resistance from the inclusion of CNF was initially an issue. Toyoda Gosei says it overcame this by applying its material mix design and kneading expertise to raise impact resistance to a level suitable for automotive components.