Innovative Pretreatment Process Earns Henkel Auto Industry Accolades

Henkel Adhesives recognized with prestigious Altair Award in the category of sustainable process.

Sustainability Innovation Adhesive Technologies Aug 5, 2021

The 2021 Altair Enlightenment Award recognized Adhesive Technologies for its Next Generation Metal Pretreatment, which offers a more environmentally friendly conversion coating process.

next generation metal pretreatment

Every year, the auto industry recognizes game-changing innovations in sustainability with the prestigious Altair Enlighten Award. From a field of high-caliber nominations, Henkel is proud to claim second place in the 2021 competition, in the category of sustainable process.

Adhesive Technologies earned the honor for its Next Generation Metal Pretreatment, which offers a more environmentally friendly conversion coating process. Benefits include eliminating heavy metal phosphates and greatly reducing sludge production as well as decreasing use of water and energy. The Altair Enlighten Award recognizes the use of the PALLUMINA™ metal pretreatment process on the 2021 Toyota Tacoma and Tundra.

Animation of Henkel Next Generation Metal Pretreatment Process - Thumbnail

Henkel’s pretreatment process also supports the incorporation of more aluminum and other lightweight materials into vehicle design. Known as “lightweighting,” this is a key strategy to help the auto industry address environmental regulations around fuel efficiency and emissions, while providing comfort and safety for the driver.

“This new pretreatment formula opens the door to greater lightweighting because it works well on all major metals,” notes Juliane Hefel, Henkel’s Corporate Vice President, Automotive OEMs Americas. “Our commitment to the environment guides everything we do at Henkel, so this recognition in the Altair Enlighten Awards means a great deal to us.”

Shifting Gears: From Zinc to Zirconium

An essential step in auto manufacturing, pretreatment helps protect metal from corrosion and allows the paint to adhere more securely. For many years, a zinc phosphate metal pretreatment process has been the industry standard. As sustainability requirements across the industry began to take shape in the early 2000s, Henkel began researching pretreatment alternatives that would reduce reliance on heavy metal phosphates.

Years of research led Henkel to a zirconium oxide-based conversion coating, which offers a more sustainable alternative than the traditional zinc phosphate pretreatment process. The process innovation first made its debut in 2007 on the Ford F150 truck. Today, more than 4 million vehicles are pretreated every year with Henkel’s Next Generation Metal Pretreatment process.

next generation metal pretreatment

“Considering that the vehicle paint shop is typically the highest user of energy across the auto manufacturing process, our improved process packs a punch for the environment,” notes Hefel. “And because it performs well across metal types, our pretreatment enables automakers to introduce up to 100 percent aluminum on vehicle bodies.”

Sustainable, versatile solutions like this play a key role in lightweighting of both gas-powered and electric vehicles (EVs) — and could even spur broader adoption of EVs.

Currently, electric vehicles are roughly 30 percent heavier than traditional gas-powered vehicles. This is largely due to the weight of the battery, which spans the length of the vehicle body. The use of more lightweight materials in EV manufacturing helps to offset the weight of the battery and increase driving range—a key selling point for consumers.

Accelerating Change in the Industry

As a leading provider of adhesives, coatings and sealants to the auto industry, Henkel invests heavily in researching and developing solutions that will help manufacturers reduce their energy usage.

Henkel’s Next Generation Metal Pretreatment process reduces the steps involved in a conventional metal pretreatment process from seven to four, which significantly reduces the automaker’s carbon footprint. The streamlined process is particularly impactful for companies looking to build new production sites.

next generation metal pretreatment

Innovations like this reflect Henkel’s long-standing commitment to the environment. The company’s ambitious goals include becoming climate positive by 2040 and reducing the environmental footprint of its production facilities by 65 percent by 2025. Henkel is also committed to driving sustainability across industries through new innovative products and services.

As a global leader in adhesives, we recognize the ripple effect we can have on the industry, and ultimately, consumers. Congratulations to all the winners of this year’s Altair Enlighten Award. We also applaud the many unsung efforts that take place every day to create sustainable products that benefit people and the planet.

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A man in a lab coat with Henkel logo standing in a lab next to a microscope

Anyone who successfully manages brands over generations needs the right balance of tradition and innovation. By understanding change, we can shape the future. This is also reflected in Henkel's corporate purpose: “Pioneers at heart for the good of generations”.