Report: biobased auto parts on the rise in Great Lakes region

By Bryan Sims | April 09, 2012

The potential for expansion of biobased automotive parts and components manufacturing in the Great Lakes region is high, according to a newly released study conducted by the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The study, produced by the Sustainable and Economic Development Strategies group at CAR, examines the biobased automotive parts and components market and identified several successful approaches to increased commercialization of biobased materials in automotive components. Additionally, the report includes an examination of the status of current biobased materials technology and use within the automotive industry, emerging industry trends toward deployment of biobased materials, leading organizations active in the automotive biobased materials sector and feedstock and resource base considerations associated with production of biobased materials.

“Biobased materials, such as corn and castor oil-based plastics, natural fiber reinforcements and soy-based foam, have already been tested and deployed in a number of automotive components—door interiors, seating, package shelves and underbody panels, for example,” said Bernard Swiecki, senior project manager and lead author of the report.

Drawing on meetings with industry representatives, case studies and a literature review, CAR researchers documented lessons learned, obstacles encountered and strategies to increase commercialization and adoption of biobased materials into automotive supply chains. Additionally, the report highlights the commercialization process through three case studies. These case studies show examples of successful automaker biobased product utilization and provide a basis for understanding how a component that integrates biobased materials is developed, and how these materials move from farm to factory.

Among the prevalent challenges that remain, according to the report, is the lack of a standardized and uniform labeling regime to regulate what automotive parts and components can and cannot be labeled as a biobased material. While testing organizations like ASTM and the International Organization for Standardization have developed internal standards for evaluating and measuring life-cycle analysis of biomaterials, the report notes that voluntary, effective labeling recognized within the automotive industry regarding biobased content in auto parts and components should promote increased use of biomaterials in the industry long-term.

“Although still in its infancy, the use of biobased materials by the automotive industry has been gradually accelerating over the past several years,” Swiecki added. “Many companies in the Great Lakes region are examining the use of biobased materials in their automotive parts and components. The region is the nucleus for automotive component research and manufacturing and provides a major source of the feedstock crops used to produce biobased materials.”

To view the CAR report, click here.