Production

E is for Electrification

How Plastics Help Power Electric Vehicles

This is the fifth article in the Driving Towards Sustainability series about the critical role plastics play as the U.S. automotive sector continues improving sustainability and moves towards a more circular economy. Check out the fourth article in our series on the ACCESS framework for automotive innovation: C is for Circularity.

Driving an electric car yet? If not, chances are you will be soon.

In 2019, sales of battery-powered and plug-in hybrid cars passed the 2 million mark for the first time. By 2030, total electric vehicle (EV) sales are expected to reach more than 31 million annually.

One of the biggest reasons for such rapid growth? EVs reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. As awareness of climate change impacts grows and government, companies and consumers make informed choices to reduce our carbon footprint, demand will keep increasing.

To meet this demand for EVs, automakers are expanding use of lightweight, durable plastics to improve their range, safety and sustainability. In other words, plastics are powering the future of EVs.

Powering Efficiency: Durable yet lightweight plastics reduce the weight of our vehicles… whether electric or not. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “a 10% reduction in vehicle weight can result in a 6%-8% fuel economy improvement.” That’s why U.S. automakers are replacing heavier materials with durable and lightweight plastics, which helps increase fuel efficiency, reduce energy use nationwide, save us money at the pump and drive down greenhouse gas emissions.

Weight reduction is especially important in electric vehicles and batteries. For example, EV batteries – which today typically comprise about a third of vehicle mass – continue to reduce their weight in part due to lightweight plastic battery packs, allowing an EV to go farther between charges. And advanced plastics in components like EV battery separators can boost power up to 30% while maintaining temperature stability… improving safety and extending driving range.

Powering Safety: It takes a lot of electrical energy to power EVs, which creates a greater need to protect batteries and occupants from potential fire hazards. Plastics can help:

  • Plastics can be engineered to withstand the high heat and electrical currents generated by EVs.
  • All-plastic battery packs feature a design circuit that increases battery safety by reducing the risk of short circuits.
  • Lightweight and strong plastic battery pack systems can also help protect vehicle batteries during impacts.
  • And use of flame-retardant plastics throughout the car can help reduce risks associated with fire ignition and fire spread.
  • U.S. car makers and America’s Plastic Makers® will continue working together to further improve the safety of EVs by leveraging the unique properties of plastics.

Powering EV Infrastructure. Plastics will play a critical role in expanding our EV charging infrastructure nationwide. Advanced plastics provide multiple benefits to protect charging stations, including making them more resistant to dents, corrosion and inclement weather — important since charging stations are typically located outdoors. Durable plastics also can help prevent tampering or vandalism by providing tough casing for the charging port and charger cover.

The Road Ahead

As sustainability moves into the fast lane, electric vehicles will be critical to meeting our nation’s carbon-reduction goals. America’s Plastic Makers are working closely with America’s car makers to build the low carbon cars of the future.

Continue to visit America’s Plastic Makers: Making Sustainable ChangeSM to learn more about the steps America’s Plastic Makers are taking to help end plastic waste, build a circular economy for plastics and create a more sustainable future.

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