Vehicles made in steel and aluminum which are costly to extract, must be taken to a scrapyard for an energy-expensive process involving crushing, then shipping off to a recycling center where they are shredded and separated into small pieces, which are then sorted into various metals.
In the early 1940s, Henry Ford experimented with making plastic parts for automobiles. These experiments resulted in what was described as a “plastic car made from soybeans.
Based on the work of Afro-American scientist/botanist George Washington Carver, the “Soybean Car” was unveiled by Henry Ford on August 13, 1941 at Dearborn Days, an annual community festival. The exact ingredients of the plastic panels are unknown because no record of the formula exists today.
On the other hand, the Trabant automobile of which several million were made between the late 1950s and about 1990, had most of its body panels made from phenol-formaldehyde reinforced with cotton. The average life span of these cars was more than 30 years.
Sixty years later, in 2001, Deborah Mielewski, the Senior Technical Leader of Materials Sustainability at Ford Motor Company’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, initiated the biomaterials program.
Her team was the first to demonstrate soy-based foam that met all the requirements for automotive seating, enabling Ford to include the product first on the 2008 Mustang, then in every Ford North American-built vehicle.
Ford Research’s next step was to look at the agave fruit. The blue agave cactus Agave tequilana has spiked leaves and a round, fleshy core (the piña) and grows in the hot and arid regions of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
The leaves are chopped off and the core is cooked and crushed to create juice, which is fermented and distilled to make tequila.
Jose Cuervo make the best-selling tequila in the world. As of 2012, Jose Cuervo sells 3.5 million cases of tequila in the US annually, and a fifth of the world’s tequila by volume.
Ford teamed up with Jose Cuervo to make bioplastics from agave fibre waste that otherwise must be burned or sent to the landfill, for use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, storage bins and HVAC units. This could make cars lighter and improve fuel economy.
Mielewski at Ford has also teamed up with McDonald’s to incorporate coffee chaff — coffee bean skin that comes off during the roasting process — into the plastic headlamp housing used in some cars.
The coffee version is more sustainable because it is lighter and does not use the talc which, as a mineral, is not renewable. Coffee chaff, on the other hand, is widely available. McDonald’s also achieved its goal of sourcing all of its US coffee sustainably, one year ahead of schedule, and is also working with competitors to develop more environmentally friendly coffee cups. (corporate.ford.com)
At the Gdańsk University of Technology in Wroclaw County Selena, a research group led by Wojciech Komala, is turning to plants that are not used in the human food chain as a potential source of eco-friendly plastics.
One environmental benefit of 3D printing is the ability to print items anywhere, even in a store or at home. This theoretically could significantly reduce the need to transport items and therefore lower the emissions associated with that transportation. Unlike subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing uses only the material it needs when layer by layer is added so reducing waste, while it is also capable of reusing plastic waste.
Using 3D printing, automobile dashboards and other interior components could soon be made from Tytan which has been protected by patents in Poland, Germany, France and Great Britain.
A research team led by Professor Hiroyuki Yano at Kyoto University is working on nanocellulose, a wood pulp material for automobile door panels, fenders and car hoods, a material as strong as steel, but 80% lighter. The team chemically treats wood pulp, which consists of millions of cellulose nanofibres (CNFs), and disperses these CNFs into plastic. (rish.kyoto-u.ac.jp)
Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee have spent a lot of time working with unique 3D printing materials, such as polyester, lignin and nanocellulose. In 2019, a new research collaboration between ORNL and the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center aims to increase efforts to use nanocellulose as 3D printing materials.
Together, the team will work with the forest products industry to create new bio-based 3D printing materials that can be used to make products for building components including automobiles.
One of their partners is American Process Inc. with its nanocellulose product BioPlus, made at the company’s plant in Thomaston, Georgia. ORNL have already used their “Big Area Additive Manufacturing” (BAAM) a large fused deposition modeling (FDM) 3D-printer, in collaboration with Cincinnati Incorporated to print the full-sized, National Harbor Strati electric car in conjunction with Local Motors in Phoenix, Knoxville, and National Harbor.
The car took just 44 hours to print during the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago, Illinois. The printing was followed by three days of milling and assembling.
After the car was printed, the mechanical and electrical parts such as battery, motors, and suspension were manually assembled, with the completed car first test-driven on September 13, 2014.
Local Motors also located to Tempe, Arizona where they teamed up with IBM’s Watson IoT’s AutoLAB to release the self-driving Olli shuttle bus. Local Motors has also set up localized micro-factories in Phoenix, Las Vegas, National Harbor, and Berlin, which design and manufacture automobiles in the regions they serve.
This plan has helped the company achieve a small-batch, on-demand business model, so they can keep a small footprint while working on big ideas such as the Olli bus, that have the potential to redefine existing industries. (ornl.gov)
In 2014, Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation announced the development of a new grade of high-performance, high-transparency bio-based engineering plastic called DURABIO™, for use in touch panels on automobiles, using plant-derived isosorbide as its raw material. (m-chemical.co.jp)
Netherlands: In 2018, Eindhoven University of Technology researchers created the first car made completely out of bioplastics.
The Bioplastic car was named Noah and weighs 794 pounds (360 kg) without batteries, approximately half the weight of a regular car. The batteries weigh 132 lb (60 kg). The chassis is made from sugars, the body is made from polylactic acid (PLA) and the car is weather-proof. (tue.nl)
Morgen Filament; Axel Barrett, “First Car Made Completely From Bioplastics”
Discover solution 45: nanocellulose boats.
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