Volvo Trucks is using SABIC's Valox iQ polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) resin, made in part out of recycled plastic bottles, for the brackets of the side air deflection system in all seven models of its 2012 Volvo VN family of heavy trucks.
Although many other recycled plastics typically lose performance after undergoing successive melt histories, the upcycled Valox iQ resins have comparable or better performance than conventionally manufactured materials, including excellent resistance to impact, chemicals, and stress fatigue.
“Upcycling costs more and is harder to do technically,” Kenneth Miller, sustainability general manager for technology and innovation at SABIC Innovative Plastics, told us, at the NPE2012 show in Orlando, Fla. “The need to improve fuel efficiency and dramatically reduce weight is pushing truck manufacturers to find lightweighting solutions. For example, some heavy truck manufacturers are trying to reduce their models’ weights from six tons to five tons.” Volvo’s action is the first time an upcycled material made from post-consumer recycled content has been used in a North American heavy truck.
Plastic bottles upcycled through chemical recycling have become Valox iQ PBT used to make the brackets of the side air deflection system in all seven models of Volvo's VN family of 2012 heavy trucks. (Source: SABIC Innovative Plastics)
SABIC worked closely with Volvo to achieve a sustainable materials solution that was also a high performing one, providing application development and technical support, said Miller. “Sustainability requires more collaboration between SABIC and our customers, especially because of shorter design cycles. Sometimes, we find that what looks like a materials problem is really a design problem.” Additional lightweighting is achieved in the Volvo truck family with SABIC ‘s Noryl GTX resin for the fenders, Cycoloy resin for the grille, and clear Lexan resin for forward lighting.
SABIC’s Valox iQ resin contains up to 60 percent post-consumer recycled content and can help reduce the resin’s carbon footprint by up to 49 percent compared to virgin PBT resins, Michael Gilbert, Innovative Plastics general manager, told me. “For every kilogram of Valox iQ we use about 0.85 kg of PET bottles in a chemical recycling process. SABIC is also a net consumer of recycled plastic in our own facilities, especially our Lexan polycarbonate and Valox PBT and polyester.” Valox iQ PBT resin also has about 10 percent to 15 percent higher flow than standard PBT resins.
They tried to tell me my bottled water habit was destroying the environment. But, thank goodness, I have helped Volvo solve a problem that couldn't have happened without my help. They used my bottles to make their trucks safer. I accept your thanks!
There must be a fortune in the garbage dumps around the world if we engineers could just find a market and a way to use this vast "natural" resource. Maybe we are going about this all wrong? It took hydrocarbon-based plastics to create much of the landfill, and maybe we can find a way to reverse some of the processes and solve some fuel issues. There must be 100 years of petrofuels just waiting to be reconstituted...
Warren, you're not the only one to conclude that there's a lot of valuable material in the world's landfills (let alone all the BTUs). That's part of the move to divert, convert and reuse recycled plastics. Thermoplastics can either be recycled mechanically by grinding them up and reusing them, which usually results in downcycled plastics, i.e., of a lower grade, or by completely melting them and turning them back into their original constituents, either for use as fuel or as virgin polymers. What's unusual here is that the mechanical process has resulted in upcycled plastics, not downcycled ones.
Ann, that's a good and innovative idea. As of now plastic is an un-decomposed material and it's not an ecco friendly material. I think the new move from Volvo can cause a drastic change in automobile world, where other companies may follow the similar procedures. This in turn can help to reduce the plastic content from earth surface. But, am not sure about the future of replacement plastic parts from automobiles.
Mydesign, thanks for the feedback. I'm curious to know what exactly you mean by your statement that you're "not sure about the future of replacement plastic parts from automobiles." What are you not sure about? Their value as materials for those applications, or something else?
Chuck, good question. I don't see why not, assuming the spec requirements were the same. The material, and a couple of others they showed, definitely have other automotive apps: there was a large array of prototype parts made of several of these materials, including this one.
There was no mention of this specific material used for Volvo's side air deflection brackets also being used for under-hood applications (I would have reported it, since I'm interested in that application, too). SABIC did not say if it is developing a version of this material, or other materials, for that use. In what I've seen in the market to date, handling hot and cold air and handling under-hood temps are apps with two different sets of specs.
Ann, I mean it in a different way. Plastics are recycled to form truck parts and any recycling method for reusing the damaged spare parts made out of plastic. I mean reusing the damaged plastic spare parts. What about the durability of recycled plastic spare parts when compare with the metallic components.
Mydesign, thanks for the clarification. As I mentioned in my reply to Warren, below, it all depends on the process you use. Whether parts made of plastic are damaged or not at their EOL, they are not reused--they are recycled. Thermoplastics can either be recycled mechanically by grinding them up and reusing them, which usually results in downcycled plastics, i.e., of a lower grade, or by completely melting them and turning them back into their original constituents, either for use as fuel or as virgin polymers. Those virgin polymers are just as strong--hence the term "virgin"--as the original polymers. What's unusual here, and the innovation SABIC rightly claims, is that a mechanical process has resulted in upcycled plastics, not downcycled ones. Of course, they are not telling us how they did this.
Great article. Is this the same genearl process / material that was discussed in a previous piece relating to bridge construction? It seems that there are more and more uses for this. Maybe, some day soon there will be profit in recycling and municipalities can subsidized their budgets out of recycling rather than having to pay for mandated programs.
notarboca, can you tell us what you mean? This material and Axion's material use in the Scottish bridge are both proprietary processes developed by industry and commercialized. What alternative method were you thinking of?
What I meant was if more manufacturers were using this, or a similar process, it would be of great benefit. Commercialization is very good, too; you discover the process, you can license it and profit from it.
notarboca, thanks for the explanation. We are discussing materials, here, not processes. I agree that the more it is used the greater the benefit. So far, all of these new materials are discovered and provided by commercial entities, so I'm not sure how they could be provided or distributed without without commercialization.
Excellent article and very timely.GE sold its "plastics" division to SABIC about three years ago.I felt at that time this would mark the last we hear of engineering efforts for the company.I'm happy this is not the case.With petroleum prices escalating every week, manufacturers are searching for methods to lessen weight if that can be accomplished without sacrificing safety yet maintain integrity of design.Recycling is an excellent use of products that otherwise would be garbage sitting in a landfill.Improving your carbon footprint is a useful byproduct of that exercise also.We certainly must applaud the efforts of Volvo and SABIC for extending the life of products no longer used for their primary function. By the way, this is one of the things engineers do—innovate!This is one of those stories that should be told to graduating high school seniors who sit "on the bubble" wondering whether or not to enter the engineering field.We also might let Congress know there are still people and companies who can cooperate to get things accomplished.Maybe they will take a hint!
bobjengr, glad you enjoyed the article. The SABIC representatives I met with mentioned that their Innovative Plastics division originated in the former GE group. I was really impressed with what SABIC has accomplished. That said, SABIC is a Saudi Arabian company, not an American one, without all of the constraints (even for beneficient reasons) American ones have and with many social and political conditions US engineers might not want to live with.
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