Foaming Agents for Plastics Achieve Mass Reduction in Interior Auto Parts

9th September 2013

Clariant, a speciality chemicals company based in Switzerland, has announced commercialization of new HYDROCEROL® chemical foaming agents that can help automakers cut the weight of many plastic interior car parts without adversely affecting appearance or performance.

Mass reduction is critical to achieving new, progressive fuel-economy standards. Foaming has been used in auto parts before, but earlier chemical foaming agents (CFAs) made it difficult to achieve a consistent, high-quality surface finish automakers and their customers demand, so applications were limited to parts that were hidden from view. The new-generation HYDROCEROL, developed by the Clariant Masterbatches business unit, creates a finer, more durable foam-cell structure that allows manufacturers to achieve surface quality and mass reduction of between 5 and 20% (depending on part design and application). The results have been demonstrated in components molded from polymers such as thermoplastic olefin (TPO), polypropylene (PP), and nylon, even parts made from up to 30% glass- and mineral-filled materials. Applications under development include door panels, ceiling panels and head liners, and instrument-panel sections (IP Lower).


HYDROCEROL has uses in visible automotive components such as instrument panels


“Mass reduction has become one of the most important objectives in the global automotive industry,” says Rick Spring, Automotive Segment Head, Clariant Masterbatches, North America. “The newest fuel-economy mandates issued in the U.S. and Europe demand it and, although plastics account for a relatively small percentage of overall vehicle weight, every bit can help reduce demand for fossil fuels and cut greenhouse-gas emissions. Clariant is committed to supporting environmental initiatives like this.”

The improved CFA technology used in the new HYDROCEROL masterbatches now make it possible to achieve a highly consistent structure of cells as small as 60 microns in diameter. This compares very favorably to the 400 microns typical of first-generation foams and even the 180 microns, which was considered “fine” just a few years ago. As a result, there is virtually no appearance or performance difference between structures produced with CFA versus those made without it. ‘Paintability’ may be maintained in most materials up to 7% material reduction.

Logically, a reduction in material use also leads to cost reductions. Adding just 1% HYDROCEROL CFA can reduce net material costs by 5% or more according to Clariant.