The automotive industry is currently facing major upheaval, with customer demands towards the automotive interior rapidly changing and environmental regulations quickly tightening. To meet the ever-increasing demands of interiors for cost savings, enhanced performance, and sustainability, automotive manufacturers are adopting a common practice called lightweighting. As a result, the automotive industry requires new material solutions. Being a comprehensive supplier of engineering plastics, Asahi Kasei has recently introduced SunForce, which is a highly functional material with unprecedented design possibilities. SunForce is taking the company’s material technology to a new level through a family of new foam beads materials based on modified polyphenylene ether (mPPE) and polyamide (PA). Both material types are unique, with the mPPE-based SunForceBE/BH being the first material of its kind to receive the UL 94 V-0 flame retardancy and the PAbased SunForce AM/AS being the first polyamide-beads foam material worldwide. “Creating for Tomorrow: This is not just Asahi Kasei’s group slogan, but also something deeply anchored in the company’s DNA,” says Takuji Namatame, Senior Manager, Corporate R&D Division at Asahi Kasei Europe.

He explains that the foam market is a very traditional one, and for a long time, no big changes happened. Foams made of polypropylene and polystyrene still have major shares, but due to the material properties, their use in very demanding environments is limited. Asahi Kasei’s foam solutions tackle the issues the OEMs are currently facing from different angles. With the flameretardant BE, the heat resistant BH and AS, as well as the sounddamping AM, the SunForce family consists of four products based on two different engineering plastics. Their properties open up new application fields, which were not possible by using conventional foams. While SunForce BE/BH with its flame resistance, dimensional stability, high processability and superior insulation properties can contribute to safer, more efficient and more compact EV battery modules, SunForce AM/AS weighs in its sound-absorbing properties and offers new solutions for a silent passenger compartment. Common to all grades are the adhesive properties, making SunForce a perfect material for composite core solutions in combination with metal, fibres or carbon-fibre reinforced plastics. In addition to high-performance foam materials, the company offers market-leading battery separators, sustainable microfibers for interior surfaces, synthetic rubber and gas sensing solutions.
This broad portfolio makes Asahi Kasei unique on the market and allows for new material synergies developed under a single roof. “We consider ourselves to be a one-stop solution provider for the automotive industry,” says Namatame.

He believes that while the transition to electric cars is accelerating, the battery technology still leaves a lot of room for improvement. Optimised thermal management of battery packs will become increasingly important. Tackling exactly this issue, SunForce BE was applied as a battery spacer material by a major OEM for its new electric car model. SunForce’s thermal insulation properties and high flame retardance contributed to the battery pack’s efficiency and safety.

Speaking of Asahi Kasei’s polyamide-based AS, Namatame explains that this grade features high heat-resistance and keeps its dimensional stability even at 200 °C, so applications are being considered for peripheral engine components and structural vehicle components. Currently, the company is evaluating application fields for the SunForce family outside of automotive. The m-PPE based BE and BH both feature outstanding dielectric properties and are interesting materials for the ICT industry. Another topic Asahi Kasei is working on with BE/BH and AS is its application as a composite core material, for example in combination with continuous fibres. “We see many new application fields through leveraging the unique properties of the single materials and the improved functions the composite material offers,” says Namatame. Finally, the topic of “lightweight” is not limited to the automotive or mobility industry, but it is an omnipresent topic in many industries. Foams are an important tool to realise this. The SunForce particle beads foam family is much more than just lightweight. It is a game-changer, in terms of flame retardancy, heat resistance and sound-damping properties.