Plant-Based Plastics Could be in Your Next New Car

Plant-Based Plastics Could be in Your Next New Car
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Not only does oil provide the motive force for automobiles, ships and aircraft, it’s also used to make plastic, a material that our modern world is literally built from. Look around, you’re probably surrounded by it right now. But not all polymers are magically created out of crude hydrocarbons siphoned from the earth’s crust, some can be made from plants.

Bio-based plastics could be a major way to reduce carbon emissions in the future. German company Rӧchling is showing off its eco-friendly Plantura material at the 2014 SAE World Congress in Detroit.

The basis of this green plastic is lactic acid, a chemical that comes from a variety of sources, but in this case fermented sugar cane. “It’s a 100 percent natural monomer” said Fabrizio Chini, manager of advanced development for engine systems at Rӧchling. After you obtain lactic acid “then you polymerize the monomer to get plastic” he said.

Plantura Plastic

Naturally, Europe is hell-bent on slashing CO2 emissions and materials like Plantura could get them closer to their goals. “We are only considering what is coming out of the exhaust system” said Chini, but he noted there are lots of other carbon emissions made during manufacturing.

Producing 1 kg of Plantura only results in a claimed 0.5 kg of CO2. If this material became adopted on a large scale it could help significantly reduce undesirable pollution, especially compared to conventional plastic, which is much worse. But that’s not all.

“Aluminum is the black one” Chini said, adding that its emissions are something like 20 times worse than standard plastic.

Plantura can be used in a variety of applications, from air-filter boxes under the hood to interior trim. It can be formulated to be stiff and rigid, or soft and flexible. It can be offered in a rough almost wood-like color or high-gloss black. Best of all Chini said “it’s also competitive in price to an oil [-based] material.”

Plantura Plastic

Given its adaptability it can compete with conventional plastics including polyesters, polystyrenes, polyolefines, polyamides and probably a bunch of other fancy-sounding words that start with “poly.”

Plantura has been tested and automakers are interested. It’s ready to go into production but OEMs are still evaluating it so it’s not on the market in cars and trucks just yet.

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