People make a big deal about being friendlier to the environment. It’s why we have to limit our plastic bag usage at the grocery store, use less aerosol spray, and it’s why automakers are using more recycled materials in the manufacturing of their vehicles.
Let’s start with the big picture. Manufacturing vehicles is not the most green activity — harmful emissions and a lot of waste are byproducts of the process. As a result, more automakers are pledging to make their plants and HQs landfill-free. General Motors, Ford, Nissan, BMW and Subaru are among the big names that have changed their manufacturing to reduce the amount of waste produced.
But cars have become greener and more eco-friendly, too, and almost every vehicle on the road uses some kind of recycled material or biodegradable content. For example, General Motors collects the water bottles from the Renaissance Center, Warren Technical Center, Orion Assembly, and Flint plants, and converts them into the material used to insulate the sound in the new Equinox. Ford does something similar and also uses recycled nylon for many components found under the hood including air-cleaner housings, engine fans, fan shrouds, HVAC temperature valves, engine covers, cam covers and carbon canisters.
But recycled water bottles are like the tofu of recyclable materials — there are no shortage of applications. The seat fabric in many Ford vehicles, including the Fusion, Focus and F-150, are made using water bottles. In fact, according to Ford, approximately 22 16-ounce plastic water bottles are used to make the seat fabric in a Focus; approximately 39 such bottles are used for seats in the Fusion S and SE; and between 63 and 110 such bottles are used for the F-150, depending on the model. Speaking of tofu, the seat cushion foam is also made from soybeans.
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Ford is so invested in reducing its environmental impact that it’s led them to tequila. They are teaming up with Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics that can be used for vehicle interiors and exterior components. Ford believes that this composite could cut vehicle weight and lower energy consumption, while paring the use of petrochemicals and the impact of vehicle production on the environment.
“At Ford, we aim to reduce our impact on the environment,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department. “As a leader in the sustainability space, we are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibres, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel economy.”
While Ford is off playing with its tequila, Toyota is sugar coating its environmental impact by using another kind of sweet bioplastic in its cars that is based on sugar cane. This material is used in a variety of components including the seat material and radiator tank, but is based on sugar cane, rather than oil like traditional plastics. In fact, the Japanese automaker pioneered the art of using bioplastics in cars back in 2010 when the Lexus CT 200h used this eco-friendly plastic in the trunk liner.
BMW also uses plant fibers in its cars. While a somewhat niche vehicle, the i3 features a ton of organic materials in its car. The dashboard and door trim are made from renewable natural fibers, while the car also features naturally tanned leather. There’s also open-pore eucalyptus wood found in there, too, which is sourced from Forest Stewardship Council-certified forestry. BMW estimates that about a quarter of the interior is made with renewable raw materials and recycled plastics. Additionally, 95 percent of the i3 can be recycled.
German rivals Mercedes and Audi use recycled paper (probably from their massive press releases) in their cars, usually in the cargo liner. Korean automaker Hyundai even uses a volcanic rock-based plastic concoction in its roof support pillars.
It’s clear that cars are not only more efficient than ever before, but are having less of a negative impact on the environment by using more recyclable materials and greener manufacturing. By using these smart manufacturing processes, automakers are doing a big part in cutting down their carbon footprints. Maybe if this trend continues, we can see cars that truly have zero carbon footprint.