Plastics have been a big deal in automotive lightweighting for quite a while. Now they are in car engines. Recycled plastics and other sustainable materials are gaining ground in cars, too, following the lead of big automakers such as Ford, but bioplastics haven't moved very fast in that arena -- until now.
The Biofore Concept Car, using biomaterials from Finnish manufacturer UPM, premiered at the Geneva International Motor Show earlier this month. Many of the components in a car that are usually made of petroleum-based polymers or composites have been replaced in the Biofore by two different bioplastics: UPM Formi, a cellulose fiber biocomposite, and UPM Grada, a thermoformable plywood-like material.
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The student-designed Biofore concept car, which premiered at the Geneva International Motor Show, contains many components made of two different bioplastics. It is powered by biodiesel. (Source: UPM)
The car is not just a demo. The Biofore was created to be a street-legal city vehicle. Over the last four years, automotive engineering and industrial design students at the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences designed, manufactured, and tested the car. It weighs about 150 kg less than a car of the same dimensions, and its 1.2-liter low-emission diesel engine runs on UPM's wood-based biodiesel fuel, BioVerno.
UPM says in a press release that its materials are made from renewable, recyclable raw wood materials that come from responsibly managed forests. Most of the car's components can be recycled. The thermoformable Grada wood material is molded using reduced amounts of heat and pressure. It's used in the car's door panels, passenger compartment floor, display panel cover, and center console. You can download a fact sheet and a carbon footprint profile here.
The company's Formi cellulose biocomposite is designed for use in injection molding, extrusion, and thermoforming. It's made of renewable fibers and plastic. It's used in the car's door panels, interior panels, side skirts, dashboard, and front mask. Up to 50% of the raw material used in Formi is renewable. You can download data sheets, guides and other documents here.
William, materials used in passenger cars, or in any vehicle used by citizens/consumers, are strictly regulated. I'd be very surprised if these hadn't been already tested for flammability. Test procedures these days can be very sophisticate and thorough.
Nadine, thanks for that definition and info. Bioplastics makers have usually worked hard to make sure their products *don't* smell like the feedstocks, for example, in the case of algae-based bioplastics. Most of them don't come from particularly good-smelling sources, or they come from relatively neutral-smelling ones. I doubt if ambient scenting has entered manufacturers' radar screens yet. Most of the effort to date has been getting processes scaled and materials up to par.
Ann, My concern about fire resistance is that this is a new material without a lot of history, so how it performs is not well known. And about the biodiesel fuel attacking the plastic, the concept of "like disolves like" is hard to ignore. It may indeed not be a problem, but that will depend on the similarity of the molecular structures. Sometimes things don't work exactly the way folks thought that they would. Now we do simulations, previously we did prototypes.
Ambient scenting is sometimes called scent marketing. We're all very familiar with it. When a store "smells like Christmas" or suddenly the smell of fresh baked cookies wafts through a mall making us seek out sweets, we're reacting to scent marketing.
New car smell is so popular that it's part of the vernacular. Ambient scenting is used in consumer products in smaller ways, i.e. scratch and sniff jeans for kids.
Personally, I'd tie the scent to the component that the bio-plastic is derived from if it's appealing. Other choices could be to ink it to the colour. Red=strawberries, brown=chocolate, cream=jasmine, green=grass or apples, etc.
William, I think skepticism is good. But plastics that are processed at high temperatures only melt at high temperatures. Fabrics already in use in many cars, no matter what they are made of, start burning at lower temperatures. And there's no particular reason to think a biodiesel spill will affect plastic car parts and worse than a perto-based diesel spill would. So I'm not sure what your concern is about these materials vs others already in use.
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