We could one day be growing our cars.
Cars are responsible for carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, but so is their manufacture – and that’s about to change.
Now, scientists are working on plastic made from weeds, modular designs and other innovations help the motor industry reduce its carbon footprint even before a new car turns a wheel on the road.
The carbon footprint of making a new car greatly varies depending on the model, but it is usually big.
Some analysts calculate that as much carbon is emitted to manufacture a car as is emitted by driving it across its lifetime.
That’s why Selena, a research group in Poland, is turning to plants that are not used in the human food chain as a potential source of eco-friendly plastics.
It’s called the Biomotive project and it has been awarded €15m (£13.5m) from the EU.
Wood pulp is even being studied for some components and car dashboards and other interior components such as door handles, seat frames and instrument panels could soon be made from bioplastics, explained Wojciech Komala, research and development director.
“We lower the carbon footprint by using bio-based sources,” he says. “And by trying to develop lighter components for the cars.”
Plant chemicals are used to synthesise polymers in the lab – a natural process harnessed for industrial use. The bioplastics that result can be heated and injected into a mould or 3D printed like any conventional plastic.
Although currently an expensive option, it is theoretically greener than using oil since plants are renewable carbon sinks – that is they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The Biomotive project aims to find out if Selena’s bioplastics process can be made commercially viable for the car industry. Mr Komala says his team hopes to construct a small production factory next year.
The motor industry has done quite a lot already to reduce emissions. In the last 10 years, the carbon emissions associated with car production in Europe have fallen by nearly 24%, even though the number of cars produced has increased by more than 40%.