Posted on January 22, 2016

As highlighted during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, the energy-efficient and safe transportation of people and goods is vital the economies of the GCC. Particularly in automotive and aeroplane design, plastics “Made-in-the-GCC” have contributed to a multitude of innovations in safety performance and fuel efficiency.

“All forms of transport require energy to run and fuel represents a substantial part of running costs,” says Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, Secretary-General of the Gulf Petrochemicals and Chemicals Association (GPCA). “In line with a commitment to sustainability, manufacturing automotive components from polymers can significantly reduce the weight of cars, planes, boats and trains and cut fuel consumption dramatically thereby not only reducing costs, but also reducing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the environment. Today’s typical automotive may contain more than 1,000 plastic parts.”

The use of plastics and polymer composites has grown from an average of 10 kg per car in 1960 to 150 kg in today’s cars. Due to their favorable strength-to-weight ratio, it is estimated that these plastic materials comprise approximately 50 percent of a lightweight vehicle’s volume, but only about 8 percent of the vehicle’s weight. 105 kg of plastics, rather than metals, in a car weighing 1,000 kg makes possible a fuel saving of up to 7.5%*. 

“In addition to helping improve fuel efficiency, the use of advanced, lighter materials is helping enhance other vehicle functions, including acceleration, handling, braking and safety,” explains Dr. Sadoun. “Furthermore, auto producers are pursing the use of recycled plastics in vehicle design and increasing recycling rates for all automotive parts.” “Today the plastics industry in the Arabian Gulf region directly employs over 30.000 people, which in turn helps create an additional four jobs in the plastics processing industry. 67% of these jobs are held by GCC nationals thereby contributing to the sustainable development of the Arabian Gulf community and national economies.” 

The plastics producers in the GCC are increasingly focusing on enabling solutions that further drive sustainability. SABIC in Saudi Arabia has developed for example an all-thermoplastic tailgate, which delivers the desired stiffness and strength in addition to weight savings of up to 30 percent, or 12.5 kg. Its new roof design for heavy-duty vehicles launched last year reduces drag and is capable of raising the fuel economy of large vehicles by up to three percent. Another example comes from Borouge in the UAE: Borouge has been actively collaborating with original equipment manufactures (OEMs) and components producers, particularly in Asia, to adopt high performance glass-fiber reinforced polypropylene polymer compounds to substitute metal and engineering plastics.

Other GCC plastics producers have also introduced several new and upgraded material solutions that contribute to lower fuel consumption and reduced CO2 emissions. This coincides with the GCC countries heavily investing in auto markets during the recent years. The state-owned Oman Investment Fund is holding a 40% stake in global auto parts suppliers such as Sigit – which supplies thermoplastic and rubber components to global automotive suppliers, Qatar holding LLC is the third largest stakeholder in Volkswagen, and Kuwait’s sovereign wealth fund is the largest shareholder in Daimler.

Saudi Arabia, is committed to developing a national automotive cluster, encompassing car, truck and bus assembly as well as R&D and design; components; sub-systems and sub-assemblies and logistics. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Industrial Cluster program (IC) has set a target of production of 600,000 cards a year by 2025. “These developments compliment the GCC burgeoning plastics manufacturing industry”, says Dr. Al-Sadoun. “As conversations around sustainability become top of mind for leaders and common people alike, plastics is being used to further the cause of a modern, sustainable life – from being used as durable, lightweight transportation applications, to windmills that produce renewable energy.”

According to the latest GPCA research: plastic production capacity reached 26.6 million tons in 2015, a three- fold increase from 2006. Saudi Arabia accounts for 64% of regional plastic production followed by the United Arab Emirates which manufactures 20% of plastic from the Arabian Gulf.

For more information on the plastics industry in the Arabian Gulf, please visit