Polymers: A catalyst in transforming Electric Vehicle industry

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Rising concerns of greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles coupled with depleting fuel resources have propelled the emergence of electric vehicle Industry (EVs) Environmental awareness about greenhouse gas emissions has also contributed to the changing buying behavior for environment-friendly electric vehicles.

Rising fuel prices have driven individuals to look for alternative options such as electric vehicles. The role of polymers has become much more critical owing to the paradigm shift in the consumer buying behavior towards automobiles. Consumers today have become much more aware of the impacts of vehicular emissions, and thereby shifted interests towards EVs.

The automobile industry is the third largest sector for the consumption of polymers. As a result, monitoring the buying behavior patterns in the automobile industry becomes vital for players operating in the EV polymers market.

Changes in the polymer material used in the automobile industry impacts on the overall performance of the polymer industry as they are highly integral raw materials in the EV. The high performance plastics such as Polypropylene (PP), Polyurethane (PU), Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), ABS, and Polyamide are used for in the manufacturing of components such as automotive bumpers, cable insulation, flexible foam seating, foam insulation panels, elastomeric wheels and tires, suspension bushings, cushions, automotive body parts, and dashboards etc. These components constitute a significant share of the EV automobile manufacturing.

As per the statistics from International Energy Agency (IEA), there were close to 5.1 Mn EV vehicles on the road by the end of 2018, which saw growth by almost 2 Mn vehicles in the last fiscal. The IEA anticipates these EVs would comprise a 30% market share in the automobiles by the end of 2030.

These rampant shifts in the automotive industry influence the business of supplying polymers to the automotive industry. Stringent regulatory norms on vehicular emissions coupled with technological innovations such as advancements in battery life as well as efficiency for EVs have been the primary drivers for the rapid growth of EV market and in turn, have boosted the growth prospects of the polymers in EV market.

Most notable advancements in EVs has been related to their batteries where the costs of EV batteries have declined drastically. Lithium-ion batteries have been used in the EVs where the efficiencies have increased. Further companies like Tesla have continued to invest in the advancement of Li-Ion battery technology for EVs owing to high recharge capacity of these batteries.

Fuel prices have been rocketing, leading to the demands for alternative sources for automobile operations. Increasing disposable incomes in some of the major developing economies as well as the developed economies have further facilitated the growth of the EV industry.

In such a conducive market scenario, polymer manufacturers need to gauge the demands from EV manufacturers and ensure profitability. Polymers make up for approximately one-third of the raw materials used in the manufacture of electric vehicles. Polymers such as ABS, PVC, PE, PU, polyprophenylene, and sulphide polyamide among others are used in electric vehicle components such as connectors, high voltage cables, battery seals, doors and battery cases, engine head covers, and air ducting, among others.

Need for lightweight automobiles; reductions in Noise, Vibrations, and Harshness (NVH) values; and durability of the cars have driven the demands for polymers to be integrated. There are many advantages associated with the integration of polymers in the automobiles.

The most notable contribution of a polymer integrated into an automobile has been the reduction in the weight of the car. Polymers such as thermoplastic polyolefins have replaced the conventional steel-based bumpers imparting a sleek design to the vehicles. The high-heat tolerance property and the increased strength of the polymers enhance the safety of vehicles. For electric vehicles, these polymers are proven to be safer and stable conductors within lithium batteries.

Additionally, the EV polymers such as Polypropylene (PP) and Polyurethane (PU), Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), and Polycarbonate (PC)  are far less expensive when compared to the glass and metals like aluminum used in the automobiles, and they can be directly injected into the molds of the vehicles.

This further brings down the manufacturing costs for automobile manufacturers. Besides, the mold-in-color polymers facilitate unlimited customization with regards to colors and sheen for the vehicle. They also allow for the addition of chemicals easily, thereby ensuring a scratch-resistant and UV resistant end-product. These capabilities ensure the reduction in assembly steps, thereby reducing the overall costs of the vehicle for the end-user.

One of the most critical challenges for polymer manufacturers supplying to the automobile industry would be designing automotive components that can withstand extremely high temperatures. The increasing power density of the battery in the EVs would lead to an increase in the voltage that would spike up the temperatures of the batteries.

As a result, this would drive the demands for integration of robust and temperature resistant polymers such as PVC and PU. The polymer manufacturers have laid their focus on developing automotive components that have higher glass transition temperatures.

PP and PU are the polymer types that find the most extensive applications in electric vehicles. These two types of polymers account for more than 50% of the polymer consumption in an electric vehicle.

Polyamides are anticipated to find encouraging applications for battery brackets and the housings in the EV. Increasing demand for PP is expected in the coming years that would be replacing some metal parts in the interior as well as the exterior of the EVs. Further, polycarbonates would be used in the car sensors and are anticipated to grow at a rapid pace in the coming years.

Overall, in the coming years, the consumptions of polymers in the automotive sector are anticipated to rise at a rapid pace. The rapid adoptions of electric vehicles owing to the stricter emission-related regulations provide a vast opportunity for the polymer manufacturers to cater to the automotive manufacturer

Satyarth is currently associated with the Insight Partners, a market research and consulting firm as Research Analyst in ICT domain. His expertise includes Market Analysis, Report Writing, Data Mining, and Business Research & Market Forecast. He has worked on more than 50 syndicate and consulting projects. Satyarth is an Electronics and Telecommunication engineer with PGDM in Telecom Management.

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