PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS FOR BREAKTHROUGH MOBILITY SOLUTIONS
FROM THE MINUTES 2018
The average car contains up to 400 pounds of plastic. Yet, making vehicles greener is generally framed as a question of fuels and emissions. The production of vehicles is resource-intensive, and many commonly used materials are petroleum-based and non-renewable. Researchers are working to change this by developing new biosourced materials to reduce and eventually replace petroleum.
RETURNING TO THE BIO-SOURCE
Companies such as Michelin and Ford are looking toward bio-sourced materials as a way to reduce dependence on fossil-fuel derivatives. Using natural materials in vehicle production isn’t new, but the spike in oil prices in the late 2000s added a new urgency to the task. Deborah Mielewski leads the team within Ford developing new plant-based substitutes. From soy to agave to tomato fibre, they are working on turning all sorts of plants into composite materials for use in the auto industry.
"Bio-sourced materials offer something for everybody. They are renewable, they give farmers extra revenue sources and allow us reuse by-products. They are also lighter ,helping improve energy efficiency. It's an awesome world of possibilities, we just have to do the work." - Deborah Mielewski
Bio-sourced materials are promising, but there are challenges to tackle before they achieve widespread uptake:
1. Developing the technology: Researchers have made a lot of progress, but it takes time, effort and trial and error to come up with consumer-ready products.
2. Overcoming a culture of secrecy: Research and development in the automotive sector has traditionally been secretive. It will take change to break old habits and find a new balance between collaboration and competition.
3. Getting it to consumers: In the words of Deborah: “getting it over the hump” — taking the technology from lab to product, and making its use commonplace.
HOW DO WE GET THERE?
1. Improve regulation: Governments have an important role to play by setting ambitious goals, imposing standards, funding research and providing incentives to industry and consumers.
2. Create a culture of open innovation: Industry leaders must work together to create the supply chains, ecosystems and cross-speciality collaborations we need to develop new technologies.
3. Include education: Universities and other educational institutions can be hubs of innovation, creating new expertise and producing more eco-conscious citizens.
"If we want to create a new generation of wealth, we need to rethink our production models, to invent new ways of working that are less dependent on raw materials." - François Masson
FROM FAR TO CAR
Wheat straw and agave fibre → Reinforcement in composite materials
Soy oil → Foam for seats
Coconut hair → Trunk mats
Tree cellulose → Composite armrest consoles
Rice hulls and flax → Insulation for electric components
Pet bottles → Upholstery fabrics