Editorial Feature

Recycled PET Honeycomb Composites for Lightweight Car Production

Image Credit: Jenson/Shutterstock.com

Every year, we throw away over two billion tonnes of waste. EconCore and a team of student engineers from the University of Technology Eindhoven in the Netherlands have demonstrated that this waste can still be useful, applying recycled PET composites and other recycled materials to an innovative lightweight car production project.

Luca: The Electric Vehicle Made of Recycled PET Composites

Luca, an electric vehicle (EV) made of recycled PET composites and a host of other reclaimed “trash” materials, is the latest project from the University of Technology Eindhoven’s TU/ecomotive team.

The majority of Luca’s structural components are made of recycled PET composites manufactured by industry leader EconCore. In partnership, TU/ecomotive and EconCore developed a composite with honeycomb cores for vehicles – a lightweight and robust material made entirely of recycled PET.

To make the honeycomb cores for vehicles, EconCore recycled PET plastic – most of which was taken from the ocean – and laminated it into sheets combined with flax fibers. These sheets have a honeycomb structure internally, making them extremely lightweight without sacrificing the mechanical strength needed for a safe and usable car.

These recycled PET composites make up Luca’s chassis, seat support structure, battery housing, and dashboard parts. Almost all of the car was made using recycled materials, with recycled ABS contributing large amounts to the car body.

Need for More Applications for Recycled PET Composites

TU/ecomotive team member Matthijs van Wijk reflected on the need for projects such as the Luca EV to show the world what can be done with recycled materials:

“With this car, we want to show that waste is a valuable material, even in complex applications like a car.”

This innovative use of recycled materials for lightweight car production is increasingly necessary. According to the latest available figures from PET Core Europe, a total of 3.3 million tonnes of PET bottles were placed in the European market in 2017. Only 1.9 million tonnes (58.2%) of these bottles were collected for recycling. As PET bottles are the most common recyclable plastic item in the consumer market, this relatively low collection rate is concerning. Unclaimed PET bottles continue to pollute the environment at an unacceptable rate.

Projects such as the Luca EV show how the industry could make better use of recycled PET composites – even industries whose materials requirements are as specific and important as lightweight car production.

Lightweight Car Production with Recycled PET Composites

The TU/ecomotive team settled on using honeycomb cores for vehicles with recycled PET composites to enable extremely lightweight car production. Luca weighs only 360 kg without batteries, and only 60 kg of batteries are required to get it going.

This weight is achieved through EconCore’s innovative honeycomb cores for vehicles’ recycled PET composites requirements. It is a top priority in EV design, as weight is directly proportional to the amount of energy needed to run the vehicle.

With the low weight achieved with EconCore’s honeycomb cores for vehicles in recycled PET composites, Luca boasts an action radius of 220 km and a top speed of 90 km/h. This places the student concept car project firmly in the same category as EV market frontrunners such as the Nissan Leaf or Kia Niro EV.

Student Innovation with Industry Partnership for Lightweight Car Production

The TU/ecomotive team is made up of 22 Eindhoven students representing seven disciplines. With new projects in innovative car production, the team changes every year, earning worldwide recognition for the students who deliver them.

For several years, TU/ecomotive has been supported by EconCore – an industry leader in thermoplastic honeycomb core materials production.

We’ve been involved with this project for the last four years now and each year our involvement has increased. We’re delighted to be supporting the TU/ecomotive team as we share similar values in terms of using technology to produce sustainable products and minimise waste."

Wouter Winant, Technical Manager, EconCore

“Through innovation, we can create much more sustainable solutions and the Luca car project demonstrates that in such a clever way.”

As well as supplying the honeycomb cores for vehicles to the TU/ecomotive team – 20 sq m of honeycomb core material in laminated sheets – EconCore are also on-hand for technical support and advice from its experienced engineers.

A key design problem illustrated the positive working relationship between the students and EconCore. The TU/ecomotive team struggled with selecting an adhesion solution to join some of the recycled PET composites parts with other recycled materials. Therefore, EconCore engineers devised a polyester non-woven fleece to wrap around the recycled PET composites, which would work well with adhesives used for other materials. The fleece also has a thin layer of PET to stop the adhesive from leaking into the honeycomb core of the composite material, which would have a drastic impact on the vehicle's overall weight.

This is just one example of how the partnership in this innovative lightweight car production project benefited both parties. Winant went on to remark:

“The team asked for specific data and advice on how to optimally design and use the panels. We carried out tensile tests on the composite materials and three-point bending tests on small panel samples, with different core thicknesses and skin materials.

“The mechanical data from these tests provided the optimum design of sandwich panel with the right balance between sustainability, weight, strength and stiffness.”

EconCore - Thermoplastic honeycomb sandwich materials

Video Credit: EconCore/YouTube.com

What is Next for Lightweight Car Production with Recycled PET Composites?

EconCore is continuing to develop recycled PET composites and honeycomb cores for vehicles. Meanwhile, the TU/ecomotive team’s 2021/22 will be hotly anticipated by industry and academia alike.

The partnership between EconCore and TU/ecomotive will continue. New applications for recycled PET composites, honeycomb cores for vehicles and lightweight car production will surely be announced in the coming years.

References and Further Reading

EconCore (2020) EconCore Proud to Be Key Partner of Sustainable Concept Luca Car. EconCore. http://www.econcore.com/en/news/view/127/econcore-proud-to-be-key-partner-of-sustainable-concept-luca-car.

PET Core Europe (2019) 2017 Survey on European PET Recycle Industry. PET Core Europe. https://petcore-europe.prezly.com/2017-survey-on-european-pet-recycle-industry-582--of-pet-bottles-collected.

Van der Meer, Barry (2020) Our Students Present ‘Waste Car’ Luca: A Car Made Largely from Recycled Waste. University of Technology Eindhoven. https://www.tue.nl/en/our-university/departments/biomedical-engineering/the-department/news/news-overview/08-10-2020-our-students-present-waste-car-luca-a-car-made-largely-from-recycled-waste.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Ben Pilkington

Written by

Ben Pilkington

Ben Pilkington is a freelance writer who is interested in society and technology. He enjoys learning how the latest scientific developments can affect us and imagining what will be possible in the future. Since completing graduate studies at Oxford University in 2016, Ben has reported on developments in computer software, the UK technology industry, digital rights and privacy, industrial automation, IoT, AI, additive manufacturing, sustainability, and clean technology.

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