Owens Corning Joins BASF, TenCate to Fast-Track Car Composites

We reported last year on a joint venture between the Dutch aircraft composite maker TenCate Advanced Composites and the German chemical and plastics giant BASF to refine glass and carbon fiber composites for high-volume car manufacturing. Now Owens Corning has joined this alliance to help develop continuous glass fiber composites.

This partnership is one of several devoted to making carbon fiber composites that can be manufactured quickly and inexpensively enough to replace materials currently used in car production. The goal is to develop high-performance materials that can help carmakers reduce automotive weight to meet mileage targets and reduce carbon emissions.

Owens Corning will work with BASF and TenCate to adapt continuous glass fiber to make composites that can be used in high-volume thermoplastic automotive parts manufacturing.

Ashish Diwanji, vice president of innovations for Owens Corning's composite solutions business, told us the alliance is targeting structural and semi-structural auto parts, as well as body panels and interior parts. Highly structural elements in the frame or body-in-white will require a material as stiff as steel, such as carbon fiber. Many parts inside the car are semi-structural or nonstructural but must be lightweight and relatively affordable.

"To lighten these parts, one has to provide continuous glass fibers in forms that are usable for mass production and are economical," Diwanji said.

As a glass company, we bring to this joint venture a whole range of glass fiber and glass fabric products with different strengths and mechanical properties. We will convert them for this alliance into a fabric form tailored for BASF's resins and processes. TenCate will convert this into a thermoplastic tape using continuous fibers, instead of the short glass fibers used today.

Most new cars contain parts made of nylon thermoplastic composites filled with short glass fibers. Long, or continuous, glass fiber composites are stiffer and stronger than short ones. Continuous fibers can also be placed strategically within the design to make parts thinner and lighter. Short fiber placement can't be controlled during injection molding.

Continuous fibers are already used in thermoset processes to make things such as the composites used in wind turbine blades. The resin is typically epoxy or polyester, but volumes are very low compared to the millions of car parts produced. The alliance has to design new composites made with long fibers, and it must figure out how they can be made into parts with thermoplastic processes at mass production volumes.

BASF and TenCate are also targeting thermoplastic processes for the carbon fiber-based materials they are developing. As part of the alliance, BASF plans to develop specialized variants of its Ultramid (PA), Ultradur (PBT), and Ultrason (PESU) resin systems. TenCate is contributing its composites manufacturing experience. BASF is a major producer of plastics for automotive applications, and TenCate is known for its laminates and prepregs used in commercial aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A380 and A350.

At last month's JEC Composites show , BASF demonstrated auto parts made of continuous fiber carbon fiber-reinforced composites using thermosetting processes. They included a fender made with the new Baxxodur System

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