One downside is the enormous amount of fertilizer used to produce corn for ethanol, The feritlizer washes down the Mississippi River and contributes to a marine "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico. The good news is that development is tilting toward use of waste biomass and algae as a feedstock. It looks like the big ethanol subsidies may also wind down as a result of all the budget debate iN Washington.
This is definitely a great use of recycled materials but I question the rise in use of food source materials. There has been a lot of press about converting animal feedstock (and human feedstock) to engineering materials. Plastic from corn, foam from soy, carbon from bamboo, while impressive on the surface - what is the down side? Already taxed freshwater systems and farmlands are used to grow these crops and even in our great country there are food needs that remain unmet. Of course, the upside is the renewable ecosystems. I just hope that future prudence prevails as this technology grows (pun intended!).
That's a very useful Web site Rob. Keep in mind that substantial efforts are under way to move to standard polymer chemistries in automotive design in an effort to make plastics more recyclable. As a result, you are seeing less PVC and ABS in auto interiors and more polyolefins such as TPOs and polypropylene. Recyclability is a huge trump card for metals, but the real game will be played in weight reduction as car makers strive to hit tougher mileage requirements. That's why General Motors is leading a drive to replace major metallic structural sections with carbon reinforced plastic -- which is not realistically recyclable post-use.
The end-of-life on vehicles is a great question regarding recycling. The site GreenVehicleDisposal.com has a breakdown of what materials are available at the end-of-life. At this point, 95 percent of aluminum in disposed cars is recovered and recycled.
Thanks for the glimpse inside Ford's eco-materials efforts, Doug. It's refreshing to hear about sustainability efforts beyond advances in EV technologies or alternative fuels. The part about the chemist dealing with rancid odors trying to concoct a soy-based foam really spotlights the challenges organizations face trying to create practical and economical solutions using alternative materials.
It’s an interesting question. For automotive applications, the use of post-consumer plastics is still too low to drive an increase in recycling. Wood-plastic composites, however, present a different story. In 1996, Mobil set up a company called Trex to convert recycled plastic bags into composites (50 percent wood flour) that could replace wood in decking. The idea was a hit and wood-plastic composites (WPCs) now make up a large percentage of the North American decking market. They resist rot and don’t require the toxic chemicals used to preserve outdoor lumber. Now US producers of WPCs are struggling to find adequate supplies even though efforts to develop more sources have increased. One of the culprits is the ravenous Chinese market, where companies seem to pop up daily to convert North American plastic waste into something useful.
Steel from cars continues to be heavily recycycled, and that remains an important environmental pitch versus increased use of plastics, which are more difficult to recycle. As I wrote last week, aluminum is using its ease of recycling as a major pitch to design engineers in cars and many other applications.
You've done a bunch of interesting stories about either new or recovered material (here for example the tires) being used to make parts for cars. That leads me to wonder if there have been any improvements/increases at the other end of the product life cycle, in terms of recovering/recycling a higher percentage of materials from junked cars.
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