Automotive & Transportation

Sustainability Trends: 4 Solutions Driving the Automotive Industry Forward Today and Tomorrow

BASF shows its latest sustainable automotive solutions at the NAIAS

Conversations about the automotive industry are continuously evolving and can almost represent a time capsule for what was trending during each decade. The 1950s saw the development of cruise control and power steering, the 1970s included the introduction of catalytic converters for clean air, and the 2010s focused on smart car technology. What is the focus of the 2020s? According to BASF, it’s about honing and perfecting developments made over the past decade, and helping sustainability goals amongst the industry become fully realized.

These conversations about future mobility were on full display this fall in Detroit for the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS).  While the event featured its usual vehicle demos and model announcements, the focus of this year’s event, highlighted by a keynote from President Biden, was on the sustainability-driven landscape of the industry’s future.

As representatives from OEMs, suppliers, dealers and more discussed the future of transportation, BASF’s NAIAS Suite focused on key material solutions and innovations that will drive forward this future of the industry.

Fighting the Flame 

A popular topic of discussion at NAIAS was electric vehicles and the shift towards eMobility. While major automakers unveiled new EVs and announced goals of electric-exclusive portfolios in the next decade, BASF’s suite highlighted proper safety and efficiency measures for the components that power EVs.

The shift from traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) to batteries for electric vehicles requires suppliers to develop materials designed specifically for batteries. If not, safety hazards could run amok within the vehicle.

“The process of creating a safe electric vehicle is a joint effort across all tiers,” said Preston Schoonover, Automotive Territory Development Manager at BASF. “It’s our job in the value chain to develop materials that will keep EV batteries safe and complement what other tiers are doing, whether that’s using flame-retardants, coolants, or other protective materials.”

Common issues with batteries in EVs include overheating and potential fire risk, which BASF’s flame-retardant materials are designed specifically to combat.

“The introduction of flame-retardant materials is relatively new to the industry, and it coincides perfectly with the rise of EVs,” said Michael Pilarski, New Business Development Manager at BASF. “There are two main ways BASF’s materials help keep EVs safe: first, is through our self-extinguishing flame-retardant materials that serve as a safety blanket should any event cause a spark inside the battery. Second, our coolants work in cooperation with these flame-retardant materials by keeping the battery from overheating, greatly reducing the chance of any spark appearing in the first place.”

In addition to flame-retardants and coolants, BASF is a leading supplier of high-energy density cathode active materials for lithium-ion batteries, the power source for EVs. BASF’s cathode active materials are key components that determine the efficiency, reliability, cost, durability and size of the battery. Consumers desire an electric vehicle with long range and short charging time at a reasonable price. The chemistry BASF is developing helps advance the technology of lithium-ion batteries, which in turn will achieve the performance and cost objectives of EVs that will appeal to more consumers.

BASF has identified lightweighting can help improve efficiency of EVs

The Light Way is the Right Way 

Beyond safety measures, another common barrier of EV adoption is their perceived lack of range. While this is partially due to a lack of proper charging infrastructure, BASF has identified ways to help EVs get you where you want to go faster beyond charging stations.

“Lightweighting does a lot for electric vehicles,” said Chris Korson, Chassis Segment Manager at BASF. “The batteries inside EVs are heavy; it’s one of the reasons why EVs tend to come up short of ICE vehicles’ top speeds. Developing batteries with lightweight materials allows EVs to go faster and further – acceleration speeds increase, and less energy is drained out of the vehicle while you drive.”

While BASF has been bullish on electric vehicles for a number of years, the marathon is only just beginning. BASF experts believe that time will be an ally in the development of EV infrastructure.

“Whether the move comes quickly or slowly, our number one priority is making sure we are fully prepared for the shift to electric vehicles,” Korson said. “Where we are with EVs right now compared to where we were five years ago is a staggering difference, and with OEMs committing to fully-electric portfolios and as we move away from the semiconductor shortage in the coming years, we are confident that EVs will play a defining role in the future of transportation.”

ICEbreaker: Engine Crossroads

While global automakers are announcing EV-exclusive goals for the 2030s, it’s important to not forget about ICE vehicles before then – especially hybrid vehicles.

“The shift from an ICE to EV is more gradual than sudden, which is why BASF has been preparing for it for years now,” Pilarski said. “ICE vehicles are going to remain relevant, and hybrids will be even more.”

Hybrids, which dominated sustainable transportation conversations in the late 2000s and early 2010s, have flown under the radar in recent years as EV talk has heated up, but Pilarski believes they should be considered as an ideal compromise for those who are unsure on investing in an EV. As emissions regulations become stricter, BASF’s catalyst technology used in catalytic converters will help enable even cleaner air in hybrids and traditional ICE vehicles.

“Charging infrastructure is obviously a concern for EVs, but beyond not having enough charging stations, the power grid is not currently strong enough to provide energy if everyone in the world owned one,” Pilarski said. “As more investments in EVs are made over the next decade, hybrid vehicles provide a way for consumers to gradually ease into the EV shift the same way we are as suppliers.”

BASF Coating´s new color trends collection "New Array"

Color Expertise in Coatings

Coinciding with the first day of NAIAS, BASF’s Coatings division released its 2022-2023 Automotive Color Trends collection “NEW ARRAY”. The Color Trends collection serves as inspiration for automotive designers worldwide – and provides a preview on what colors will dominate the roads in a few years.

“When developing our Color Trends collection, we research three areas – society and interaction, research and innovation, identity and individuality,” said Abhijit Jadhav, Technical Manager for Resin & Electrocoat at BASF. “For society, one signal is consumer behavior. What’s the current mood in society? How have other consumer electronics evolved recently, and what trends are developing in those industries?”

BASF’s Color Trends collection is not only utilized to inspire automotive designers on an artistic level, but also to inspire them on an environmentally friendly level through sustainable paints and coatings.

“This year’s collection has an increasing focus on sustainability along with functionality. One enabler for sustainable colors are sustainably sourced pigments,” said Adriana Martinez, Coatings Laboratory Leader at BASF. “Sustainability is BASF’s priority across all business areas, and the hope with releasing this year’s Color Trends collection is that in three to five years, these sustainably-sourced paints are much more common on the road.”

Lightweighting isn’t exclusively used for battery materials, either; it’s also used in coatings for electric vehicles.

“When designing paints and coatings for electric vehicles, you must consider the paint application and paint chemistry,” Jadhav said. “Our priority when designing solutions for customers is making sure that the paint technology is compatible with the materials used in the manufacturing of EVs.”

Whether our automotive partners need support with improving powertrains, lightweight construction, design, automated driving or ensuring a smooth ride, BASF is ready to help solve industry challenges and stay ahead of the trends. To learn more, explore BASF’s broad portfolio of automotive solutions today.