ZKW develops sustainable materials for car headlights with partners

SusMat4CarLight” project to research recyclable materials for future lighting systems


Together with the University of Leoben, JOANNEUM RESEARCH and the Polymer Competence Center Leoben, ZKW is researching the development of reusable materials, including polymers based on renewable raw materials. In the future, such sustainable materials are to be increasingly used for the production of sustainable vehicle headlights. The goal here is to achieve high durability and improved separability in order to be able to fully recycle the materials. In addition, self-healing plastics are to be used. “The global or European targets for the circular economy are a great challenge for manufacturers of complex systems. The results of this project should enable a broader use of materials. This will enable us to make an important contribution to sustainability,” says Dr Wilhelm Steger, CEO of the ZKW Group.

Need for lighter, sustainable materials
As complex, high-quality vehicle components, headlights consist – in addition to optical elements – of a large number of complex plastic components. These are currently made from polymers based on fossil raw materials. At the same time, the automotive industry is demanding lighter and sustainable materials. As a solution, ZKW is working with its research partners to develop new bio- and recyclate-based material composites that enable sustainable headlamp design. The aim is not only to research basic materials – for the housing, for example – but also complex surfaces to protect the components. “In the future, the central headlamp elements and optical assemblies could be made from new types of sustainable polymers,” explains Stefan Miedler, ZKW Group Innovation Management.

Support from competent partners
ZKW has brought renowned partners on board to develop the recyclable plastics. ZKW contributes its know-how and the requirements for materials and coatings for lighting systems to the cooperation. In addition, the lighting specialist provides samples and laboratory and production equipment. The University of Leoben provides technical and analytical expertise as well as laboratory equipment to investigate, test and process materials. The research and simulation of new, self-healing plastics is a focus of the Polymer Competence Center Leoben. JOANNEUM RESEARCH contributes its capacities for the development of new composite materials, but also expertise in the fields of plasma and surface technology as well as optical and modular lighting technology. “The joint solutions are to be tested in practice using prototypes and test vehicles,” says Miedler.

Higher percentage of recycled material
At present, the use of sustainable plastics makes sense especially for headlamp housings and optical assemblies. Due to their function, transparent lenses cannot (yet) be made from recycled plastic. The general goal is to significantly increase the share of recyclable materials, which ZKW already uses in small quantities. “However, coatings are also an important topic of the project. These should compensate as far as possible for the disadvantages of components made of recycled materials, such as high surface roughness, outgassing and moderate adhesion,” says Miedler.

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