The automotive industry – both the traditional internal combustion engine powered and the emerging electric vehicle sector – is increasingly relying on polyamide (PA) for its parts manufacturing. A publication by Tecnon OrbiChem, London/UK, explores the chemicals and feedstocks that underpin the automotive sector. As an engineering resin, PA is the raw material for vital mechanical components including intake manifolds and fuel lines. PA’s textile yield is the raw material for air bags, an application in which its combined strength and adaptability fortifies a vehicle’s overall safety profile.
Designated high performance materials, PA underpins the auto industry’s recent advances in light weighting, increasing sustainability in transportation. As a feedstock, PA also offers faster and more cost-effective production rates than steel and aluminum processes historically.
However, lower costs and faster supply are only achievable with a smooth-running PA supply chain.
Even before Covid, the PA 66 intermediates market was turbulent, with balances shifting back and forth between oversupply and acute shortage since 2017 at least.
Soon after the Russia-Ukraine war began in February 2022, a number of major automobile manufacturers in western and central Europe announced temporary closures due to the disruption in supplies from parts makers in Ukraine. As the ongoing war inflated natural gas prices, the price of ammonia – a key precursor for both PA 6 and PA 66 intermediates – rose from US$200/ton to around $1,500/ton in the year to March 2022. With October's disruption to the Nord Stream pipeline compounding the natural gas crisis, PA market uncertainty remains high and supply chain visibility low.
Despite the disruptions, October 2022 marked the UK’s third consecutive month of registration increases (up a quarter month-on-month), according to a Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders report. EU auto sales in September represented a 2-month growth spurt, reported the European Automotive Manufacturers Association. Also, at around 15 million light vehicle unit sales in October, year-on-year growth topped 11% in the USA.Electric vehicles
With interest in electric vehicles (EV) growing, PA is likely to become a key material in electrical cable application due to its very good insulation properties. Dutch chemicals company DSM – which is currently negotiating divestment of its engineering plastics business to Lanxess – has already moved into this market with its Akulon PA 6 and PA 66 material solutions for EV charging plugs.
US-based chemicals company Ascend meanwhile is leveraging the R&D behind its new PA 66 material Starflam X-Protect. Not only does the flame-retardant material improve the safety, says the company, its damping properties enhance EV sound profiles.
Germany-headquartered chemicals company BASF is expanding its PA offering for EV markets by offering tailor-made engineering plastics for use in electric cars using its Ultramid engineered plastic.
There is no doubt that PA grades have a great deal to offer all automotive applications, automakers and/or suppliers, whether EV-focused or otherwise. A versatile PA with high mechanical strength, stiffness and toughness features in engine cover and fuel line applications. PA is also used in auto grids, hub caps and interior linings.