AKRON — The recent passage in Washington and California of laws to protect the environment is putting brake pad manufacturers under pressure to reformulate their products to eliminate copper content.
Last year the two states passed legislation calling for the eventual elimination of copper in light vehicle brake pads sold in their states. Proponents claim every time brakes are applied, the friction dispenses copper dust, which makes its way into the waterways, endangering fish and other wildlife.
Brake pads contain about 10 to 20 percent copper, which helps dissipate heat and is a key component in the wear process. California's stricter legislation requires a reduction in copper content to 5 percent by 2021 and a near total elimination of copper from brake pads by 2025.
Washington was the first to enact brake pad legislation last year, banning the sale of brake pads containing more than trace amounts of cadmium, chromium, asbestos, lead and mercury by 2014. It then establishes a two-step reduction of copper:
- Limiting copper content in brake pads sold in the state to no more than 5 percent by 2021; and then
- Establishing an advisory committee that will assess the feasibility of lowering the mandate to 0.5 percent copper content eight years after a viable alternative is available.
Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), said the laws banning the sale of copper brakes in those two states are enough to force a change in brake pad formulation for the entire friction industry in the U.S.
Brake manufacturers generally supported the legislation to eliminate copper but are concerned about meeting the deadlines with viable substitute materials, Ms. Wilson said. There are numerous formulations required to accommodate the variety of vehicle platforms.
“The race is on as to what the next brakes will be,” said Jack Cameron, executive director for the Brake Manufacturers Council, part of MEMA. The California law requires manufacturers to avoid substituting copper with another material that also could prove detrimental to the environment.
Ceramic/organic-based brake pads have become more popular in the last decade, but they all contain copper as a key component, according to Sarah Olson, Federal-Mogul Corp.'s product development manager for friction North America.
Ceramic pads may be the answer but they are more expensive and are not a “quick retrofit replacement” for all braking systems, Mr. Cameron said, as some braking systems are not designed to use ceramic pads.
Inventory runoff to meet California's 2025 deadline also is “a huge concern” due to the proliferation of types and sizes of brake pads in the aftermarket. “We're over-inventoried as an industry,” Mr. Cameron said.
Federal-Mogul already has started working on proprietary formulations, which are being evaluated to meet the first phase of 5 percent or less copper content, Ms. Olson said. “We're positioned to hit the market with those in the near future.”
These manufacturing changes shouldn't impact how auto repairers service brake systems.
“In the next five years, I don't see a significant shift as these alternative materials start to roll out. Again, the target is to maintain similar performance to the products that are in the market today,” Ms. Olson said.
While U.S.-based manufacturers are working to meet mandated content requirements, there is no guarantee some imported or counterfeit products will comply with the state laws, according to Ms. Wilson.
The ongoing concern over the importation of low-quality and counterfeit auto parts prompted the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association to launch a “Know Your Parts” industry awareness and education campaign in 2009.
The industry group is encouraging technicians to be aware of “what's in the box” to ensure they are using quality auto parts on their customers' vehicles for optimum safety and ride quality.
Likewise, Federal-Mogul offers information for consumers and technicians on its website to help them recognize original vs. counterfeit Federal-Mogul parts.
The friction industry also is considering a uniform marking standard for aftermarket brake pad “edge codes,” much like the standard Department of Transportation (DOT) codes on tires.
The markings on the side of brake pads provide number identification for when and where they were made. Mr. Cameron said there is a push in the industry to standardize the manufacturer and material content coding on the products.