[Written in partnership with MaGIC, but the editorial team had full control over the content.]
One of the reasons Malaysians may be hesitant to switch to electric vehicles (EVs), apart from the lack of government incentives, is the lack of infrastructure to curb range anxiety.
Did you know: Autonomy anxiety is the fear of the owner of the electric vehicle that the battery of an electric vehicle does not have enough charge for the vehicle to reach its final destination or that a charging point is not available to charge “in the road “.
One manufacturing solution to this would be to build electric vehicles with more efficient materials. This would make the frame of a vehicle lighter, leaving room for more batteries (which will also increase the stability of the car), thus increasing its range.
Watching this scene is a Malaysian startup, Composites from the Midwest which designs alternative materials to reduce the weight of electric vehicles in a cost-effective manner. With Malaysia it is unlikely build your own fully electric car for consumers soon, they start with public transportation in the form of buses.
Its CEO, Sethu Raaj Munusamy, shared: “Not only do we reduce the weight of electric vehicles, but most of our current work is also done on conventional vehicles. In a conventional car, we can reduce the weight by up to one. 40% through compounds. That means a 28% fuel saving for the car. “
Compounds are the future of material
A compound is a material that is produced from two or more (different) constituent materials. Compounds offer certain advantages, such as being lighter, resistant to corrosion, flexible and low maintenance compared to traditional materials such as steel, aluminum, wood or concrete.
Think of it as an extremely durable but environmentally friendly plastic, especially when using biomass, which is a renewable organic material that comes from plants and animals.
Midwest Composites mainly performs R&D and manufacturing of compounds, including hybridization of glass using carbon and vegetable fibers such as palm oil, kenaf, pineapple and others.
“Our main passion is the use of biomass in compounds 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
Getting biomass into a tangled structure that is necessary for proper production is not yet available in Malaysia, despite the abundance of raw materials here. That is, Malaysia has the raw materials that can be converted into compounds, but it does not have the production materials needed to convert them.
Sethu further explained that the necessary similar production materials are available in Europe, but they 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 shared. It is about driving the manufacture and use of compounds in Malaysia, which are applicable in various industries.
The team intends to one day penetrate the consumer market as well, to make carbon fiber parts more affordable for the masses and original equipment manufacturers.
But first they have to convince the market
One challenge the team may face is convincing the market to make the switch to using more sustainable materials. This is especially so when the manufacture of compounds may be more expensive in the first place, as it has not yet achieved economies of scale.
Sethu agreed: “Being a startup in a new technology field presents challenges in which it is necessary to educate customers who are already comfortable with their existing options, so convincing them can be time consuming and also financially burdensome.” .
“But once the market understands the real potential of these natural fibers, this industry will take off and we intend to lead this revolution,” Sethu stated his goal for the company.
So a viable way for Midwest Composites to gain customer trust is by leading by example. The company should demonstrate that, despite the high initial costs, making the switch to compounds will bring other long-term cost-saving benefits.
This makes the current startup partnerships with large companies a strategic move.
It serves buses, drones and conventional vehicles
The Midwest Composites team is currently working with a local bus company to develop a Malaysian-made electric bus.
For example, the team has built an engine cover that does not require any metal frame as support. This is able to reduce its weight by 50% compared to conventional construction that uses metal materials. They have also built a diesel tank and a fiberglass toilet module for the bus.
Aside from buses, Midwest Composites also manufactures components for conventional vehicles, such as car and motorcycle mud, bumpers and interior roof panels. They are made of fiberglass and carbon fiber that can be customized according to consumer demands.
Sethu shared that since he partnered with the bus company, the customer connected them to a local drone builder looking for fiberglass infusion drone body kits.
Part of the project also includes the construction of 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 at SEA and it will help our reputation to establish ourselves as an advanced compounding company globally,” Sethu said.
Midwest Composites has also partnered Inter Formula Sdn Bhd to develop a fully electric race car for motor sports. Sethu reported that the most interested local companies with opportunities for collaboration in the electric vehicle space have also approached the company.
From these partnerships, Midwest Composites has earned a total revenue of RM 320,000 in the last 14 months..
We would love to have the opportunity to work with the major players in the industry, such as Proton and Perodua, to be able to share our composites experience 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
As part of GAP, Sethu is confident that Midwest Composites will open up more business opportunities through available tutoring and growth training.
- You can learn more about Midwest Composites here.
- You can read about other Malaysian startups we have presented here.
Featured Image Credit: Sethu Raaj Munusamy, CEO and co-founder of Midwest Composites