EIT RawMaterials supported project TAPA has developed innovative solutions to substitute rubber for sustainable materials in car components manufacturing

European manufacturers often utilise input raw materials that are sourced in other continents such as Asia or Africa. There are different reasons for this, among which is the fact that some raw materials are simply not available in Europe – this is the case of natural rubber. This raw material is harvested from the rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis, a native species of the Amazon region, introduced into several other regions for rubber production and currently extracted primarily in Southeast Asian countries. In Europe, this raw material is utilized to manufacture mostly tires as well as other products, including various car parts. Due to its economic importance and supply risk, natural rubber is included in the list of Critical Raw Materials (CRMs), a list of strategic raw materials for Europe identified by the European Commission.

Cikautxo, a car component manufacturer belonging to Mondragon Corporation (a large corporation based in Spain, Basque countries), set itself the objective to offer an alternative to rubber-based fluid handling pipes to its customers in the automotive sector. This would provide a lighter, cheaper and recyclable automotive component. This objective was also very much in line with the strategies of EIT RawMaterials, that is aiming at promoting innovation to secure the supply of critical raw materials, and when possible also to promote technologies to substitute them. Cikautxo invested roughly EUR 2 million in developing a new process and testing alternative materials to reach this goal. To further advance the project towards industrialisation, they relied on up-scaling project TAPA funded by EIT RawMaterials (performed during 2016-2017).

Substitution of rubber in automotive fluid pipes for thermoplastic-based recyclable products

The objective of TAPA (ThermoplAstic fluid handling Pipes for Automotive sector) was the development of new pipes for the automotive industry based on the substitution of natural rubber by a thermoplastic material, namely thermoplastic copolyester (TPC), using energy-efficient blowing technology. The basic objective was to substitute a critical raw material, rubber, for a thermoplastic formulation that is 100% recyclable.

The project led to the following results:

  • New process/product development: the fluid pipes are produced by blowing a thermoplastic material, manufactured in one single process having two layered materials (textile reinforcement + thermoplastic), thus saving 40% of energy for each unit produced.
  • Test and validation of a new product for the uses developed by DSM that is 100% recyclable and completely free from natural rubber.
  • Validation of prototypes at industrial level at the end of the project in December 2017.

This in turn resulted in the starting of production in July 2018, and in product transfer to car manufacturers in 2019.

EIT RawMaterials gave us the chance to make this project, strategic for CIKAUTXO, possible.

Pablo Martinez, General Manager at CIKATEK 

Successful implementation of the TAPA project will have a positive environmental and economic impact

The new product brings substantial environmental benefits. Firstly, natural rubber replacement by thermoplastic solutions will lead to the reduction of the environmental footprint, because the TPC material will be 100% recyclable, in contrast to rubber, which currently is not recyclable. In addition, new blowing technology for fluid conduction components manufacturing will lead to an increase of 30-40% process energy efficiency, because of a reduction in production time, related to the replacement of a two-step process (injection for the rubber element and extrusion for the thermoplastic one, and the assembly operation) by a single blowing process.

The replacement of hot charge ducts, which currently use metal and rubber combinations, by flexible high temperature and fully recyclable TPC thermoplastic materials, will reduce the use of CRMs in the industry. Furthermore, the new solution fulfils customer needs, in terms of weight reduction, energy efficiency of the manufacturing processes and production time and cost.

The product stemming from the innovation project TAPA increases the competitiveness of MONDRAGON-CIKAUTXO, thus enabling the production of unique components that currently are not offered by other manufacturers.

TAPA project gave us a big support to speed-up the R&D process.

Urko Gurmendi, CIKAUTXO, TAPA Project Manager

This sustainable and efficient solution could be replicated in other sectors, such as aeronautic or electrical appliances.

Production has started in 2018 and the product will be incorporated in cars during 2019.

Members of the innovation project TAPA consortium:

  • Mondragon Corporation S. Coop., Spain (Lead Partner)
  • CIKATEK S. COOP., Spain
  • CIKAUTXO S. COOP., Spain
  • Fundación Tecnalia Research & Innovation, Spain
  • Katholieke Universiteit te Leuven (KU Leuven), Belgium