An ultra lightweight concept car from Toyota is making its North American debut this morning at the 2008 Chicago Auto Show. The body frame is made from carbon-fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP), the same material used in the Boeing Dreamliner fuselage and wings. Toyota says the CFRP material “is lighter and stronger than traditional metals, creating a shock-absorbing like structure with cross-sections that help absorb energy during an impact.” Its curb weight of 926 pounds is one-third the weight of the Prius hybrid. Metal is also replaced in the roof of the concept car. The 1/X is made from a bioplastic derived from kenaf and ramie plants. “The result is a roof that improves heat insulation, emits less carbon dioxide, increases the amount of light entering the cabin, and reduces noise,” says the Toyota announcement. Ramie is a fibrous plant native to eastern Asia. This is the first time I’ve heard of it being used in plastics. Kenaf has been under study as reinforcement in plastics for more than a dozen years. Toyota has been a leader in developing biplastics in recent years, but the 1/X announcements leaves many questions unanswered. What is the plastic used in the “bioplastic”? kenaf and ramie are reinforcing and filler media. Is it PLA, a PLA hybrid, or something else? What are the body panels made of? Is CFRP practical as a material of construction in cars, or is this just a great PR model? High cost and tight supplies of CFRP could limit its widespread use in cars. Are there any unique glazing concepts in the 1/X?
Plastic bags can become useful as either raw materials for plastics or feedstock for fuel. It's when they're not recycled that they become a major problem. That's what California's bag ban will prevent.
NASA's JPL and Caltech have achieved the mind-boggling feat of 3D printing multiple metals in a single end-part, grading from one alloy to another. They've also developed a method for combining metals with carbon fiber composites in end-production parts.
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