Plastics For Cars

October 01, 1998

New "self-strengthening" plastic could allow the cars of the future to be built using recyclable polypropylene plastic. The process developed at the University of Leeds will make the family saloon lighter, cheaper to produce, easy to recycle and with rust free bodywork. Trials using the new plastic for body panels are currently underway with Ford Puma rally cars.

The strengthening process, known as hot compaction, uses threads of polypropylene that have been stretched out in order to make the long polymer molecules line up in the same direction. This regimented structure gives the hot compacted plastic a strength similar to that of composite materials used in automotive and aerospace applications. The threads of stretched polypropylene are then woven to form a plastic cloth that can be carefully heated and squeezed together to form a rigid sheet. This sheet is then shaped into car body panels.

Plastic is usually reinforced and strengthened using fibres of glass or other materials such as carbon to make composite materials. These make the plastic difficult to form into shape using the process known as "thermoforming". The hot compaction process is the first process that allows the finished material to be easily thermoformed into products such as car body parts. Hot compacted plastic is also under trials for loudspeaker cones, automotive parts and radomes for the noses of aircraft.

For further information or a full copy of the article please contact Andrew McLaughlin on tel: 0171 451 7395; fax: 0171 839 2289 or email:

Notes for Editors

1. Materials World is the journal of the Institute of Materials, the professional body of more than 18,000 materials scientists and engineers throughout Europe.
2. The journal is distributed to all of the Institute's members who work in areas such as plastics, rubber, steel, metals and ceramics.
3. The full text version of this article is available from the web on page:
4. Materials World is also available on the web:
5. For further information on the hot compaction process, please contact Andrew McLaughlin for a full copy of the article and to arrange an interview.

Institute of Materials

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