Malaysian startup turning plant fibres into EV parts

[Written in partnership with MaGIC, but the editorial team had full control over the content.]

One of the reasons Malaysians may be reluctant to switch to electric vehicles (EVs), other than the lack of government incentives, is the lack of infrastructure to reduce range anxiety.

Did you know: Range anxiety is the fear of the owner of the electric vehicle that the battery of an electric vehicle is not sufficiently charged for the vehicle to reach its final destination or that a charging station is not available for recharging ” on the road “.

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One manufacturing solution to this would be to build electric vehicles with more efficient materials. This would make the chassis of a vehicle lighter, making room for more batteries (which would also increase the stability of the car), thus increasing its range.

Malaysian start-up Midwest Composites is watching this scene, which is designing alternative materials to cost-effectively reduce the weight of electric vehicles. Since Malaysia is unlikely to build its own fully electric car for consumers anytime soon, they start with public transport in the form of buses.

Its CEO, Sethu Raaj Munusamy, said: “We are not only reducing the weight of electric vehicles, but most of our current work is also on conventional vehicles. In a conventional car, weight can be reduced by up to 40% thanks to composites. This represents a 28% fuel saving for the car.

Composites are the future of materials

A composite is a material that is produced from two or more (separate) constituent materials. Composites offer some advantages, such as being lighter, corrosion resistant, flexible and low maintenance compared to traditional materials such as steel, aluminum, wood or concrete.

Think of it as an extremely tough, yet environmentally friendly plastic, especially when using biomass, which is a renewable organic material sourced from plants and animals.

A table made from biomass composites / Image credit: Midwest Composites

Midwest Composites is primarily engaged in the R&D and manufacturing of composites, including the hybridization of glass with carbon and plant fibers such as palm oil, kenaf, pineapple and others.

“Our main passion is using biomass in composites so that we can reduce the amount of plastic that is not recyclable in the environment,” Sethu told Vulcan Post.

Malaysia has the materials, but not the machines

Obtaining the biomass in a tangled structure necessary for proper production is not yet available in Malaysia, despite the abundance of raw materials here. Which means Malaysia has the raw materials that can be made into composites, but lacks the production materials needed to convert them.

Sethu further explained that similar production materials required are available in Europe, but are too expensive for the Midwest Composites team.

“So until we can find a way to produce these materials here, we will have to rely on the hybridization of glass, carbon and natural fibers,” he explained. This is to push for the manufacture and use of composites in Malaysia, which are applicable in various industries.

The team intends to someday enter the consumer market as well, to make carbon fiber parts more affordable for the masses and original equipment manufacturers.

Garden gnomes made from composites / Image credit: Midwest Composites

But they must first convince the market

One of the challenges the team may face is convincing the market to switch to using more sustainable materials. This is especially the case where the manufacture of composites may be more expensive in the first place because it has not yet achieved economies of scale.

Sethu agreed, “Being a startup in a new area of ​​technology presents challenges where you have to educate clients who are already comfortable with their existing options, so convincing them can take time and also be financially heavy. “

“But once the market realizes the real potential of these natural fibers, this industry will take off and we intend to lead this revolution,” Sethu said of his focus for the company.

Therefore, a viable way for Midwest Composites to gain the trust of customers is to lead by example. The company is expected to show that despite the high upfront costs, switching to composites will translate into further cost reduction benefits in the long run.

This makes the startup’s current partnerships with large companies a strategic move.

Serving buses, drones and conventional vehicles

Currently, the Midwest Composites team is working with a local bus company to develop an electric bus made in Malaysia.

For example, the team built an engine cover that did not require a metal frame for support. This is able to reduce its weight by 50% compared to conventional construction using metallic materials. They also built a diesel tank and a fiberglass toilet module for the bus.

In addition to buses, Midwest Composites also manufactures components for conventional vehicles such as fenders, bumpers and interior skin panels for cars and motorcycles. They are made of fiberglass and carbon fiber which can be customized according to consumers’ demands.

They can also build auto parts / Image credit: Midwest Composites

Sethu shared that since partnering with the bus company, the client then connected them to a local drone builder who was looking for fiberglass infusion drone body kits.

Part of the project is also to build a lighter electric motor for the drone with a wingspan of 2.5 meters.

“This is a monumental project for us as we are building the first of its kind in SEA and will contribute to our reputation by establishing ourselves as a globally advanced composites company,” said Sethu.

Build the drones / Image credit: Midwest Composites

Midwest Composites has also partnered with Inter Formula Sdn Bhd to develop a fully electric racing car for motorsport. Sethu said the company has been approached by more interested local businesses with opportunities to collaborate in the electric vehicle space as well.

From these partnerships, Midwest Composites has achieved total revenue of RM320K in the past 14 months..

We would love to have the opportunity to work with big industry players such as Proton and Perodua to be able to share our composite expertise and use the synergy between us to build world class composite cars here in Malaysia.

Sethu Raaj Munusamy, CEO and Co-Founder of Midwest Composites

Participation in cohort 5 of the Global Accelerator Program (GAP) of the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Center (MaGIC) has also increased its visibility.

As part of GAP, Sethu is confident that Midwest Composites will open up to more business opportunities with the mentorship and growth training available.

  • You can read more about Midwest Composites here.
  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups that we have featured here.

Image Credit Featured: Sethu Raaj Munusamy, CEO and Co-Founder of Midwest Composites

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