We've all heard about the Chevy Volt. It's a plug-in electric vehicle that gets 230 mpg. But there's another green story taking place in automotive design that gets little attention. Researchers at companies such as Ford are investing lots of time and money into making a "sustainable" car. That is, a car that uses as many sustainable materials as possible. Big progress has already been made on the use of soy-based materials to replace hydrocarbons in seat foams.
Castor oil is also being used now (on a very limited basis) to make plastic components for automotive radiators. A few models from Japan use natural fibers such as kenaf to reinforce plastics, reducing the demand for glass reinforcements, which are heavy and energy-intensive to produce. Ford researchers even hope to develop plastic components that are compostable when the car is trashed.
Here are highlights of activities that will make cars greener.
MOLDED BIOPLASTIC PARTS Toyota is the leader in the use of plant-derived
plastics in cars. Thirty percent of the combined interior and trunk of
the 2010 HS 250h Lexus is made of what Toyota calls "Ecological
PlasticsTM," that is plastic based on polylactic acid derived from corn,
sugarcane or some other plant. By 2014 Toyota wants 20 percent of the
plastics used in cars to be derived from plants or recycled from some
CASTOR OIL RADIATOR TANK A new plastic developed jointly by
Denso and DuPont contains 40-percent renewable content by weight
derived from the castor bean plant, and meets requirements for heat
resistance, durability and road salt resistance - attributes that were
difficult to deliver with many resins containing a high percentage of
plant-derived ingredients. Caster oil polyamides were developed in the
1940s, but are surging in use now as OEMs look for replacements for
SOY FOAM FOR SEATS Ford pioneered the replacement of
hydrocarbon polyols with soy-based polyols used in flexible foams for
seats and other interior applications. Soy foam will be used in more
than 1 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles this year, reducing
carbon dioxide emissions by more than 5 million lb.
PLANT-BASED FABRICS Honda introduced PTT (polytrimethylene
terephthalate) seat fabrics in the FCX Clarity fuel-cell vehicle, which
is now available in California. Mass production is still many years
away. New Sorona fibers from DuPont are derived from a corn feedstock
and have significant potential for fabric use.†
KENAF-FIBER REINFORCEMENT Several natural fibers, such as
kenaf, could be used to reinforce plastics in several potential
automotive applications, such as door trim. The big payoff is a 30-percent
weight reduction compared to glass fiber, which adds stiffness and
strength to engineering plastic composites. Another payoff is reduced
energy requirements to produce natural fibers versus glass.†
RECYCLED PLASTICS OEMS are looking for ways to reuse
plastics. The side door window retainers in the 2009 Chevy Traverse use
recycled material. More than 23,000 lb of recycled material can be used
annually for this part. A trunk sill plate in the Cadillac STS uses
more than 8,300. More than 4,595 tons of polymeric parts in the model
are now marked for recycling. †
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationís recent backup camera mandate could open the door to more vehicle innovations, including better graphical displays, 360-degree camera views, and the increased use of Ethernet.
With support from National Instruments, a group of dedicated students from Connally High School in Austin, where more than 50% of the students are at risk of not graduating, have created a successful robotics team that is competing in the FIRST World Championships.
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