Solvay: Making engines smaller, more efficient

March 17, 2023
Cooling electric vehicle batteries, downsizing engines are among priorities for automotive materials supplier.

By Bruce Geiselman

Solvay, a Belgian multinational chemical company with operations in the United States, is developing plastic resins that can improve the efficiency of electric vehicles (EVs). 

“Most of those opportunities are coming within the electrified powertrain,” said Brian Baleno, head of marketing-automotive for Solvay. “We define the electrified powertrain as the battery system, the power electronics, commonly known as the inverter, and the electric motor. More and more, they’re demanding higher-performance materials within each of the systems, and that’s where we’re putting a lot of our research and development efforts.” 

Solvay is developing plastics with greater chemical resistance as automakers use different cooling fluids and media to cool electric motor systems, Baleno said. Automakers also want better and higher-performing materials as they look to miniaturize components and use less material to make them.  

Solvay is developing solutions that allow automakers to scale down the size of motors while increasing efficiency. 

For example, magnetic wire insulation has typically been made from a polyamide-imide (PAI) material, but Solvay's KetaSpire polyetheretherketone (PEEK)-based material offers superior insulation properties, as does its slot liner film made from PEEK, Baleno said. The Solvay materials are thinner with more thermal conductivity and allow for greater copper wire slot fill, which maximizes the motor’s power output. 

“In the process of doing those two things, you make the electric motor more efficient, and by making the electric motor more efficient, you can actually downsize the electric motor, as well as downsize the battery because you have a more efficient electric powertrain,” Baleno said. “It’s a very unique and novel solution based on the use of thermoplastic materials in both the metal wire installation as well as the slot liner.” 

Solvay also is developing plastics, including new grades of polyphthalamide (PPA) and polyphenylene sulfide (PPS), that can withstand higher temperatures for use in an electric motor’s traction inverter.  

“Specific applications include the power module and the bus bars,” Baleno said. “In the inverter, we see an increase in temperatures. The first-generation inverters are power electronics operated at 150 C [302 degrees Fahrenheit], and now, we’re moving up to 175 C [347 degrees Fahrenheit], which puts a greater demand on the materials. We’re developing new grades of Amodel PPA and Ryton PPS.” 

As Solvay is developing new materials to meet the needs of EVs, it also is working on making the materials more sustainable. 

“Effectively, what we’re doing is coming out with new materials with a lower carbon footprint that essentially lowers the carbon footprint of our customers, and, ultimately, the end user, the auto manufacturers,” Baleno said.  

“In the case of PPA, we’ve reduced the GWP [global warming potential] by 30 percent since, I believe, 2013,” he said. “It’s based on the raw materials that are used — that’s one aspect. The other aspect is, we use renewable electricity at the manufacturing plants. The third aspect is basically reducing industrial waste in the manufacturing process.” 

An area in which Solvay is still working and that is proving challenging to the plastics industry is identifying materials that can withstand potential battery fires. 

“We’re developing a lot of new materials in this area to address thermal runaway within battery systems,” Baleno said. 

Bruce Geiselman, senior staff reporter

[email protected]


Solvay Materials, Alpharetta, Georgia, 770-772-8200, 

About the Author

Bruce Geiselman | Senior Staff Reporter

Senior Staff Reporter Bruce Geiselman covers extrusion, blow molding, additive manufacturing, automation and end markets including automotive and packaging. He also writes features, including In Other Words and Problem Solved, for Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Plastics Recycling and The Journal of Blow Molding. He has extensive experience in daily and magazine journalism.