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Light materials to replace glass and metal

Arkema develops new high performance thermoplastics as well as resins and powders for thermoplastic composites, capable of replacing steel, rubber or glass in vehicles and airplanes.

Reducing the weight of transport equipment (cars, trucks, trains, boats and airplanes in particular) is an efficient solution to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.


The use of parts made of thermoplastics and composite materials in the structure of a vehicle or in its engine generates substantial weight reductions compared to similar parts made of metal or glass.

lightweight materials for carbon emissions savings

The key challenge for Arkema is to develop thermoplastic and composite materials capable of replacing metal and glass and of delivering high performance in terms of:

  • reliability and safety
  • resistance to impact and to temperature variations
  • straightforward processing
  • manufacturing costs 
transparent car
The carmaker’s dream is the same as the chemist’s who would like to replace glass with plastic. When you reduce a car’s weight by 100 kg, you save about 0.4 liters every 100 kilometers, or 5%, which is considerable.
Christian Collette, Vice President R&D of Arkema

Arkema, a pioneer in ultra high performance thermoplastics for transportation

As the market leader in specialty polymers and PMMA “acrylic glass”, Arkema recently brought out innovations in both product lines to provide industry with materials that fulfil their specification requirements for lightweight materials that are as effective as metal, glass or rubber:

  • Temperature constraints: to be able to use thermoplastics in an extreme heat environment, Arkema has developed Rilsan® HT. This biosourced polyamide based on polyphthalamide (PPA) is flexible and can replace metal or rubber in under-the-hood flexible pipe applications thanks to its resistance to high temperatures. An automotive part made of Rilsan® HT is up to six times lighter than a metal part.


  • Resistance and transparency constraints: glazing is a key element in car manufacture. The materials used for this have to be lightweight and high performance. Accordingly, Arkema has developed Altuglas® ShieldUp, a nanostructured acrylic sheet that is transparent, extremely resistant to impact, and 50% lighter than glass.


  • Durability and sturdiness constraints for exacting markets: to replace metal  in cutting-edge sectors such as civil and military aeronautics, Arkema has developed the Kepstan® PEKK product range (polyether ketone ketone). This polymer for the extremes, while lighter, features the same properties as metal in terms of abrasion and impact resistance as well as non-combustibility. 
rilsan ht tubes
vue intérieure d'un toit en Altuglas Shieldup
airplane in the sky

Arkema, the expert in nano-technologies for materials combining light weight, sturdiness and durability

By modifying the molecular structure of certain polymers on a nanometric scale, it is possible to enhance their mechanical properties while maintaining their light weight. Arkema is renowned for its expertise in this field, unique in the world. Over the last ten years, the Group has developed:


  • A range of carbon nanotubes (CNT), Graphistrength® that impart exceptional properties to both thermoplastics and thermosets in terms of mechanical strength and electrical conductivity.
  • A patented acrylic block copolymer technology, Nanostrength® that produces highly durable polymers weighing less than traditional polymers.

Carmakers and equipment manufacturers plan to develop a French carbon fiber sector

The “Carboprec - Renewable source nanostructured precursors for carbon fibers” project aims to develop new production methods for carbon fibers from renewable raw materials. Produced naturally by plants, lignin and cellulose are materials that offer some of the most promising solutions, and would be reinforced by carbon nanotubes.

This project has secured financial backing for the next four years as part of the 7th European research framework programme. It is coordinated by Arkema, with the Renault group as one of the participants.

Arkema speeds up its development in thermoplastic composite polymers

Composites are now highly prized by manufacturers for their light weight. However, most composites are made from thermoset resins (epoxy or polyester), which makes them difficult to recycle. This constraint is at variance with the principles of sustainable development, an issue that the automotive and aerospace sectors have to address. Compared with thermosets, parts made of thermoplastic composites offer many benefits, as they are:

  • recyclable
  • thermoformable: parts can be custom-machined and shaped even after forming/molding
  • heat-weldable: the parts can be assembled together without the need for other materials


Building on its expertise in thermoplastics, Arkema pursues innovation in order to develop specific grades and resins that are suitable for the manufacture of parts made of thermoplastic composites.

Arkema recently launched a thermoplastic resin on the market that is liquid at ambient temperature and can be processed like a thermoset resin using the same machinery (infusion and RTM processes). This major innovation, called Elium®, obtained the JEC 2013 top prize in the “thermoplastics” category.

Composite materials:tough and lightweight final components

With a view to facilitating the creation of thermoplastic composite parts, Arkema has also developed Rilsan® Fine Powders specific grade. The powders’ fluidity makes for thorough impregnation of glassfiber or carbon fiber fabric and mesh, while offering the same characteristics as Rilsan® polymer,  namely ultra high resistance to impact and to chemical agents