Alongside many other industries, the automotive sector is also moving in the green direction. Electromobility is booming. However, plastics produced from non-renewable raw materials such as petroleum are also installed in e-cars. Röchling Automotive has recognized the need for bioplastics that meet the high requirements for automotive applications – and has developed BioBoom.
Fabrizio Barillari; Source: private
In an interview with K-MAG, Fabrizio Barillari talks about the demands placed on materials for the automotive industry, why Röchling BioBoom is not a competitor for food supply chains, and how the company is committed to climate protection.
Mr. Barillari, how did the development of Röchling BioBoom come about?
Fabrizio Barillari: We already had the idea for this at the end of 2009/beginning of 2010 together with an external partner with whom we have been working for several years. At that time, we already saw a future for such non-petrochemical solutions and started with the first developments. Today, the market is open to it, and we are increasingly receiving explicit requests from our customers for precisely such biomaterials.
What is the bioplastic made of?
Barillari: At least 90 percent of Röchling BioBoom is based on ingredients obtained from sugar cane and sugar beets, for example. In the future, we may even use cellulose for this purpose. These ingredients are renewable and at the same time available in large quantities. It is important to mention that we are not in competition with food supply chains. The raw material is only for industrial applications and cannot be used for food. The sugar goes through various chemical processes, and in the end we get a raw material that contains polylactides (PLA). Finally, we add small amounts of additives, resulting in our Röchling BioBoom.
Why this was necessary is actually quite simple: PLA is biobased and also biodegradable. This is a strong advantage of the material, but in its form it is not yet optimal for automotive applications. The automotive sector has very high requirements in terms of service life or mechanical forces. That's why we have developed our own additives that allow us to keep the biobased properties without compromising our customers.
Where is the material used everywhere?
Barillari: We can offer about 70 percent of our entire product portfolio with our bioplastic. This includes intake systems for combustion engines, active aerodynamic components, underbody protection, structural parts and so on. We are currently still working on tank and cooling systems and are confident that we will be able to offer a bioalternative here as well in the near future.
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What challenges did you face in developing Röchling BioBoom?
Barillari: We said right from the start that we didn't want to compromise when comparing bioplastic with petrochemical solutions. With our experience and our customers, we put together a set of specifications that is basically a sum of the most difficult tests we see our customers doing.
That was the reason for the development. We saw: These are the results we need to get. We then compared those with the basic data of the raw materials and with that we progressively developed it that way.
Source: Röchling Automotive
What are your sustainability goals for the coming years?
Barillari: The entire Röchling Group has a very clear strategy in this regard. We want to be one of the pioneering suppliers of plastics made from biomaterials by 2035. Our bioplastic is already on the market now and we have received our first orders, but we also want to develop this area progressively. We want to bring a bioalternative to market for every product we manufacture, so that we will have to use less and less petrochemical materials in the coming years.
What responsibility do you think the automotive industry has when it comes to environmental and climate protection?
Barillari: We are seeing all our customers moving in this direction and pursuing the goal of producing in a climate-neutral way. But not only that – more and more is being recycled and new, alternative raw materials are being used. These demands are also being placed on suppliers by vehicle manufacturers. The entire supply chain through to production is to become climate-neutral in the next ten years. This can be achieved, for example, by using renewable raw materials and climate-neutral energy methods such as solar panels or hydro-electrics. However, it is not just demands that are being made and targets that are being communicated; intensive work is already underway in a wide range of research groups. For example, life cycle assessment requirements are being looked at for each product and calculations are being made to determine how far we are from climate neutrality there. The next steps can then be evaluated and tackled.