Düsseldorf / Germany, June 16, 2010 - Global warming, environmental pollution, shortage of raw materials - the 21st century faces tough global challenges. "Sustainable technologies" is the name given to the way in which these pressing problems can be solved through technological advances such as new mobility concepts, more efficient forms of energy generation or raw material and energy saving. In many cases, high-performance engineering thermoplastics (advanced engineered materials) make a key contribution to these advances.
One industrial sector in which there is particularly intensive research into resource-saving, eco-friendly technologies is automotive construction. The strategies for CO2 reduction in motorized private transport are very diverse. These include increasing engine efficiency, replacing fossil fuels with CO2-neutral fuels based on renewable resources, developing widely varying types of hybrid drive or completely dispensing with internal combustion engines and replacing them with electric motors. In addition to more efficient drive technology, weight reduction plays a key role. Lighter-weight vehicles consume less energy and make many technologies, such as electric motor power, practicable for the first time.
Example 1: Longer range for electric vehicles
The crucial involvement of plastics in the development of sustainable automotive technologies is shown by the "UC?" concept car from Swiss car developer Rinspeed. Like all solely electric-powered vehicles, this car has to contend with the basic dilemma of electromobility, i.e. a short driving range. This small electric 2-person car, modeled on the Fiat 500, is relatively heavy. Although the car comes without a gearbox, clutch, alternator or fuel tank, the battery adds very significantly to its weight. Its capacity per kilogram is considerably less than that of a standard internal combustion engine. Despite this, the developers have managed to give the "Urban Commuter" a range of 120 kilometers with a fully charged battery by using lightweight components. In the rear trunk of the UC?, a sandwich panel made from Celstran® LFT with a honeycomb-structured polypropylene core ensures greater stability and reduced weight. The long-fiber-reinforced thermoplastic (LFT) from Ticona is also used under the hood in the battery mounting structure. The component must hold the heavy battery securely, while adding minimal weight of its own. The plastic from which the mounting is made must also withstand the relatively high temperatures close to the engine without any deterioration in required properties. For more about the Rinspeed UC?, please visit www.rinspeed.com.
Example 2: Fuel cells for a variety of uses
Higher efficiency with lower emissions - this is what distinguishes fuel cell technology from internal combustion engines. The automotive industry is therefore testing them in many prototypes as a mobile form of energy generation. And here once again, Ticona polymers are already being used. Fuel cells, which were originally used for space travel way back in the 1960s, are now established for off-grid power supply to a whole range of consumption outlets from technical devices to buildings such as hospitals, and even small towns. Stationary fuel cells generally have to be designed and installed individually to suit the particular application. Now, for the first time, the Center for Fuel Cell Technology (Zentrum für Brennstoffzellen Technik or ZBT) in Duisburg has developed a modular fuel cell system that avoids the need for this. With this standardized module, a wide variety of devices in industry, research and development can be supplied with low-emission power.
And here once again, Ticona's engineering thermoplastics are making an important contribution to performance and economy. They withstand the aggressive media encountered in fuel cells, in particular hydrogen or carbon dioxide-containing reformate gas. Because these thermoplastics are extremely pure and contain no special additives, there is no risk whatsoever of contamination of the media in the fuel cells. These high-performance polymers are corrosion-resistant and remain dimensionally stable, even at temperatures up to 240°C. Ticona polymers are therefore used in the fuel cell module from ZBT, for example in the so-called "fuel stack" of interconnected cells at the heart of the technology. In this application, for example, Fortron® PPS polyphenylene sulfide is used as a matrix for the bipolar plates, which serve as electrodes in the fuel cell. The high-performance plastic replaces conventional materials such as gold-coated stainless steel, aluminum, graphite or thermoset-graphite mixtures. This not only saves weight but also costs because the bipolar plates, which are injection molded, can be produced faster and do not need expensive post-finishing. In addition, the end plates required for mechanical compression of the stack are made from reinforced PPS. Other components are produced from Hostaform® POM polyoxymethylene, such as the insulating plates necessary for thermal and electrical insulation or the gas connections inserted in the end plates.
Example 3: Composites for oil or natural gas lines
Fossil fuels will continue to be primary energy sources for the next few decades. But they will only be able to make a contribution to the future energy mix if they can be obtained economically and safely. Oil disasters, such as the current catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, highlight this in a dramatic way. And in this sector, too, engineering thermoplastics are playing an important role in ensuring efficient and environmentally friendly extraction of fossil fuels. A good example of this can be seen in the flexible pipeline systems produced from Celstran® composites by the manufacturer, Airborne. These pipes, made from Celstran tapes instead of metal and metal alloys, are suitable for use as flow, pressure and underwater lines.
With these composite pipes, 500 meters of pipeline per hour can be laid from the reel, even in difficult terrain or under extreme climatic conditions. Faster pipelaying, lower maintenance costs and a longer service life mean higher economic efficiency for the oil- and gas-producing industries. "Airborne" pipelines combine light weight with robust mechanical strength, high chemical stability and very good resistance to corrosion, aging and permeation. Celstran tapes are also eco-friendly to produce and process.
Example 4: Energy saving in buildings
It is not only in vehicles or technical devices that energy can be saved and CO2 emissions reduced. Large saving potentials are also possible in building services engineering, for example in hot water supply systems. To meet stricter regulatory requirements, innovative technologies and materials are also needed in this sector. The German market is showing the way here since the new German Energy Saving Regulations (Energieeinsparverordnung EnEv 2009) came into force in October 2009. Among other things, they require circulation pumps installed in building hot water systems to be fitted with either automatic on/off switches or closed-loop control systems. The term "hot water systems" covers heating and hot water circuits of widely varying type, from conventional gas and oil heating to modern solar or geothermal systems.
The challenging service conditions encountered in these hot water circuits are no barrier to engineering thermoplastics such as Fortron PPS. Polyphenylene sulfide is approved for potable water applications and can replace brass or other casting materials. Thanks to its excellent chemical and thermal properties, the polymer can withstand pressure stresses, mechanical loads, chemical attack or high temperatures. From a cost viewpoint, it is superior to its metal competitors. Components can be manufactured in one step, e.g. by injection molding, which saves energy and cuts production costs as compared with brass.
Advanced engineered materials drive technical progress
Engineering polymers are contributing to sustainable technologies in many different ways. They are not only an economic replacement for other materials but, thanks to their specific properties, they actually make certain advances possible for the first time. With its advanced engineered materials, Ticona is participating in the development of technological advances to open up new markets for its customers and solve the pressing global environmental problems.