Are cars made from plants our best shot at reducing their carbon footprint?

First we brought you shoes made from plants, now why not your cars, too?

More specifically, certain car components made from synthesised bioplastics. The carbon footprint of manufacturing a new car can be greater than that of running the car for its whole lifetime, so limiting the amount of environmental impact a car has in the manufacturing stage would be a great move for firm’s wishing to lower their carbon footprint.

Components such as dashboards, tyres, and steering wheels could be replaced with bioplastics made from waste plant pulp. Using plants to form polymers, rather than traditional, fossil fuel-based plastics would greatly reduce the immediate carbon dioxide output of any car factory. Fewer fossil fuels being burned and lower carbon footprints for factories – bioplastics seems to be an obvious choice. 

However, things are not so straightforward.  Recycling expert, Arthur Huang, however, says that bioplastics could potentially be worse for the environment in the long term. Although requiring less energy to produce, bioplastics would require masses of farmland to produce at the scale of conventional plastics, and those that are biodegradable actually end up damaging and upsetting the eco-systems they end up in, where conventional plastics would be ‘largely an aesthetic problem’ since they don’t react with their environment.

The solution may lie instead with recyclable products, rather than degradable ones. Researchers in Japan, for instance, are working on a material made from recycled wood pulp that could replace metal in car manufacturing within a decade. Ford, for its part, aims to start using carpets made from recycled bottles in its newer lines of cars, and already recycles 1.2 billion plastic bottles each year.

Another solution proposed is to use new, eco-friendly materials to make cars lighter and improve their fuel efficiency if using conventional fuels, or to improve their range if the vehicle is electric.

Europe has cut its car-based emissions by 24% in the last 10 years, so while the problem of climate change is daunting, it’s encouraging to see that technology is enabling us to change the way we operate to be more environmentally aware. 

At a more local level these issues are facing our clients as they seek to improve their carbon footprint and plastics content in their products. One such client is E Green, a business that produces amongst other things disposable tableware increasingly from plant-based and recycled materials.

As ever, we are keen to keep an eye on how  technology is shaping the way new businesses operate and adapt to 21st century concerns such as climate change.  

“We lower the carbon footprint by using bio-based sources,” he says. “And by trying to develop lighter components for the cars.”

By Rebecca Garland on 30/07/2019