The automobile body materials subsidiary of Royal DSM, the Dutch life and material sciences company, has found novel ways to enhance mileage and quality of battery-powered vehicles in China.
By working closely with Chinese manufacturers and related electric vehicle industry associations, DSM Engineering Plastics or DEP has figured that if e-vehicles are built using lightweight yet sturdy materials, they can travel a longer distance.
Lighter e-cars also improve the endurance of the battery, said Zhang Zhenyu, commercial director of DEP for Great China region.
Agreed Zhao Ying, a researcher at the Beijing-based Institute of Industrial Economics, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "Lightweight vehicles are a significant trend in new energy vehicles. They can reduce the use of battery. Advanced materials and technology are key to lightweight vehicles and lower cost of production."
That is where DEP assumes significance. It specializes in the manufacture of plastics for electronics, automotive and specialized industries.
"We are working on lightweight materials with manufacturers in China and abroad, and trying to understand what they need now and what they might need in the future," DEP's Zhang said.
In this direction, the company has made progress. It has been able to make lighter engines, chassis and power assist systems, as well as decrease the friction between the chains. This has helped increase efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.
DEP has gained another insight in China. "For traditional vehicles, we consider most the heat resistance of materials. But now, we concentrate more on the flame retardancy and insulation performance for the batteries and new requirements for emerging applications," Zhang said.
Production capacity of parent DSM's engineering plastics production line in Jiangyin, Jiangsu province, has surpassed 10 million metric tons, he said.
Encouraged by the success so far and to secure more resources, DEP is on the lookout for possible targets for mergers and acquisitions in the field, Zhang said.
More so because the field of traditional engines has always been DEP's stronghold. The shrinking volume of traditional vehicles will force DEP to seek new growth points in the new energy vehicle industry, he said.
In engineering plastics, DEP already has a joint venture with Zhejiang NHU Special Materials Co. The venture was established last year.
Underling that China is the world's biggest market for new energy vehicles, Zhang said the country's renewable automotive sector is growing fast.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said the country is aiming to achieve an annual production capacity of 2 million new energy vehicles by 2020.
A quarter of vehicles sold in China by 2025 will be powered by alternative energy.
"We have seen a dramatic leap in China, which has a very ambitious goal in new energy cars. It'll post a new challenge for the materials required," Zhang said.
"From charging point to charging gun, and now to high-voltage connector, the change in the circuit system has posted new requirements for the materials used," he added.
So, DEP will hire more professionals toward research and development of intelligent lightweight materials over the next five years, Zhang said.
DEP's global network of R&D centers spans India, China, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.
"If our China department proposes a project but lacks related talents, we can support them from the Netherlands or other labs in the world," Zhang said.
He saw fresh challenges arising on the technology front as well.
"Digitalization is starting to take control of many parts of cars and we have seen many clients growing interest in the digital control," he said.