Innovation for sustainable interiors
Innovation for sustainable materials is taking place across our Business Groups and within the Sustainable and Smart Product Line. Sustainable solutions for vehicle interiors, inscribed in the “Interior for the Planet” initiative, are developed based on 3 pillars: use less, incorporate recyclable and recycled materials, and create alternatives to petrol solutions, with no impact on cost. By 2030, we aim to reduce the CO2 footprint of materials by 87%.
Faurecia Interiors has been leading the industry since 2008 with NAFILean ®, and is building on this to develop other interiors products that have lower CO2 emissions. Laurence Dufrancatel, innovation materials manager and Sustainable and Smart Product Line core team member, based in Méru, explains the benefits of these products and where Faurecia Interiors’ sustainable materials innovation is going next.
Q: Why did we decide to integrate natural fibers in our solutions?
In 2008 when we started to work on these challenges, the original priorities were two-fold: first the need to lower CO2 emissions, and second to lessen our dependence on oil, and thus shield ourselves from fluctuations in the price of crude oil.
The impact of the increase in the price of crude oil in 2008-2009 was exacerbated by the fact that we did not produce alternatives to 100% plastic parts at the time. Since then, we set about developing interiors parts that incorporated an ever-greater proportion of non-plastic composites. The environmental imperative has also become more urgent in recent years: we have seen this trend growing in various industries and consumers making sustainable products a priority.
Faurecia’s CO2 neutrality objective is helping us take innovation for sustainable materials further, engendering something of a second wave for interiors components and a more holistic view of the impact of our products.
Q: Why did we choose hemp as a biofiber?
A number of plants are suitable for use as bio-composites in plastic products (linen and bamboo, for example). For use in automotive interiors parts, hemp meets OEMs’ performance and safety requirements.
Through Interval, an agricultural cooperative in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France (whose members were seeking opportunities to promote their crop), we were able to source the quantities needed for our bio-composite. To facilitate the sourcing and processing of the natural fibers, we formed a joint venture, APM, with Interval.
As well as offering the performance and safety required in automotive settings, the benefits of hemp extend to agriculture as well. Hemp requires no pesticides or fungicides, and no irrigation (needing only the water present in the soil). With roots that run deep and create micro-fissures, farmers benefit from healthier soil which in turn increases yield for the next crop grown on that field by 10-15%. By partnering with an agricultural cooperative and integrating natural fibers into our products we’ve played a part in creating a value chain with benefits for actors at every stage.
Q: How is the NAFILean ® family evolving?
The NAFILean ® range has grown from one product in 2011 to four today, with a next generation in the works. Each of these improves on the ‘parent product’ by lowering CO2 emissions, reducing weight, or opening possibilities for more uses. The original NAFILean ® products are on average 25% lighter than their conventional counterparts, and save around 28% in CO2 emissions.
NAFILean Stiff ® and NAFILite ®, develop on the existing range, offering more uses for these environmentally friendly products. NAFILean Stiff ® makes for a tougher part that can be used in different settings while still saving 52% of CO2 emissions, and NAFILite ® has a microcell structure, with 29% reduction in weight and 43% in CO2 emissions before its use phase. NAFILean R ®, which uses a 100% recycled plastic matrix, saves 108% of associated CO2 emissions – it is in effect a CO2 negative product! This is a key breakthrough project, and a unique solution on the market for such applications.
The next generation of NAFILean ® is in development. NAFILean Perf ® will offer the highest reductions in weight and CO2 emissions yet (41% and 58% respectively).
Q: Which vehicles are equipped with NAFILean ® products?
Initially Faurecia and APM teams had to put a lot of effort into persuading OEMs of the value of integrating bio-composites into plastic products. Today, we are proud to equip 17 vehicles (including the Renault Clio, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, the Peugeot 508 and the Land Rover Velar). NAFILean products can be found in around 13 million cars.
Q: How will innovation for sustainable materials at FIS evolve?
In order to reach our objective to reduce the CO2 emissions associated with materials by 87%, we have identified a number of innovation tracks, some of which will bear fruit sooner, and others which will be developed over the coming years.
Currently, NAFILean ® products are manufactured through injection processes. We are developing the NFPP family, a new range of interiors components for compression technology, the first generation of which is already in serial production. While compression has its own challenges, it also presents opportunities to develop natural fiber composites using other plants (such as flax and kenaf), and expand the uses of our solutions (in visible parts, for example). The NFPP family offers up to 50% weight reduction and, with up to 45% bio-based content, can halve the CO2 emissions associated with these products. A new generation with 50% recycled content is in development.
Between now and 2023, we aim to incorporate more recycled content and more biofibers into NAFILean ® and NFPP, as well as lightweighting materials and design. In the mid-term, by 2025 we want to tackle visible parts and include more recycled content, improve production processes and recyclability, and work on lean architecture for our products.
As well as building on the NAFILean ® and NFPP ranges, we want to innovate for sustainable materials for all interiors components. To this end, we are focusing on acoustics and soft trims, by incorporating bio content, recycled content and monomaterials to facilitate recycling. In collaboration with FAS as part of Seat for the Planet, we are jointly developing alternatives to leather in automotive seating and reducing the CO2 footprint of covers, as well as biofoams.
We are also in the early stages of developing systems for chemical and mechanical recycling for plastics. As well as offering the possibility of massive reductions in CO2 emissions, a new business model such as this would allow us to add value in the recycling and reprocessing of our own products. This is still in the very early stages, but we hope to share more soon!
In all of these innovation tracks, in addition to lowering the CO2 emissions of our products and processes, we are improving our competitiveness and the unique selling points of our products, with little to no impact on the cost. These new products and evolutions are already piquing the interest of OEMs, and will allow us to grow in new markets.