Actualites > New recycled, renewable and unexpected materials make headway in cars

New recycled, renewable and unexpected materials make headway in cars

D├ętroit-AFP
 - 19/04/2016

Whether it be seats covered in fabric made out of mineral water bottles, hemp dashboards or even orange peel in tyres, little by little, renewable and often unexpected materials are climbing on board our cars.

As the industrialists interviewed during the Detroit Car Show agreed, in a framework of demands for ever lighter and recycled materials, products derived from hydrocarbons are bound to lose ground.

This phenomenon is unlikely to be disturbed by the drop in the price of petrol to its lowest since 2004, remarked Barb Whalen, head of materials at Ford: “because it’s a good thing for the environment, for the customer and for us, even if petrol is cheaper” she said to the French Press Agency.

The American manufacturer is proud to use recycled materials, namely plastic bottles, for 30% of the seat covers of its models sold in North America. On some Ford vehicles, such as rechargeable electric cars, this reaches 100% said Ms Whalen.

Beyond recycling, which also concerns steel and aluminium in car bodies, agricultural products are increasingly popping up in our cars. BMW, for example, showcases its electric i3 model, featuring a dashboard and components made out of “natural fibres” and eucalyptus.

For its part, the French parts manufacturer, Faurecia, highlights its “organic” interior fittings. While they may only be marginal in terms of total production, it is thought that natural fibres will replace synthetic ones because they are lighter, renewable and cost the same, reported Pierre Demortain, Responsible for sales of the Faurecia APM joint venture, specialized in these materials.

“Hemp (for example) is a plant that requires neither irrigation nor phytosanitary products and whose excellent properties make it possible to save 25% of the weight of a door panel, for example.” These “organic” plastics are recyclable but not biodegradable, which is good news for the car’s lifespan.
 

Replacing natural latex

Faurecia, which has also developed tailboards made out of linen fibres, is currently working to improve one of its plastics using hemp. “Within the next two or three years, it will be 100% plant origin, promises Mr Demortain, remarking that this will be “a dream come true: plastic components in cars that require no petrol whatsoever.”

Even if this dream may well be difficult to attain in the tyre sector, many manufacturers are also working on natural materials. As Thierry Willer, Responsible for technical and scientific communication at Michelin remarked to the French Press Agency, it is both an ecological and an economic requirement.

At present, tyres are made up of 75% petrol products and 25% natural rubber from hevea trees. Michelin expects a two-fold increase in the demand for tyres by 2050, but “it is unlikely we can double the total crop surface”, remarked Thierry Willer.

This is why Bibendum is working on a “new raw material”: sugar derived from biomass and then transformed into synthetic rubber.

Michelin tyres already contain other renewable and improbable materials, explained Mr Willer, notably sunflower oil and a resin derived from orange peel. The oil enables the tyre to be “more flexible at low temperatures”, while resin “in the heart of the rubber, endows it with rigidity.”

However, as he underlines, these renewable materials must provide the final product with the same quality. However, if “we can obtain the same level of performance with renewable materials, that is clearly the direction we will take.”

 

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