Will Biodegradable Cars Be the Vehicles of the Future?

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It has become apparent that our planet cannot survive in the current culture of over consumption and waste. Ecotricity predict that at current levels of consumption, we will run out of oil used in petrol cars in the next 50 years. We need solutions and we need them now. Many companies have looked towards alternatives, for example Tesla and their revolutionary electric motor. A university may have found the most innovative solution to date…

A group of students from Eindhoven University of Technology, in the Netherlands, have devised a biodegradable car that is powered by a lithium ion battery. The battery can run for 62 miles before they need recharging, using two DC-motors with a power output of 8 kilowatts. This is the latest innovation in environmentally friendly vehicular transport. The lightweight car is made of bio-plastic derived from sugar beets and covered with sheets of Dutch-grown flax. The flax is spun into bio-based composites which acts as the outer layer, whilst the sugar beet bio-plastic is crafted into the honeycomb-shaped core. The current rendition can carry four people, including the driver and can reach speeds of 50 miles per hour. Yanic van Riel from the TU/Ecomotive team at the university said, “Only the wheels and suspension systems are not yet of bio-based materials.”

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The manufacturing of flax and resin uses less than 20% of the total energy required to build an aluminium or carbon-fibre based car. This is a major benefit, especially as environmentally friendly vehicle design is a key concern within the automotive industry. However, while the final products use less energy on the roads, the energy required in manufacturing is often higher, according to researches. “Energy that is saved while driving the car is now spent during the production phase,” Noud van de Gevel said, the leader of the design team.

The design team has managed to create a car with the same strength-weight ratio to that of fibreglass and weighing in at only 310 kilograms. Unfortunately, the resin has the habit of snapping rather than bending unlike metal, Mr. van de Gevel stated. This means that the car has not been able to pass any of the crash tests it has undergone.

The vehicle, known as the Lina, should be street tested by the end of this year, once the Netherlands Vehicle Authority gives the project the green light and the car has passed the relevant crash tests. TU/Ecomotive will make a few minor alterations to the design, believing that they are extremely close to the final product.

There are promising indicators that this design could be the car of the future and according to the creators, it’s four times more efficient than the BMW I3, Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S for city driving. We will have to wait and see if Lina can become the car of the future or if other innovations such as Mazda’s new internal combustion engine technology will take prevalence.

Nevertheless, this is not a new notion with similar concepts being unveiled as far back as 2011. Two product designers, Kenneth Cobonque and Albrecht Birkner, built a one seated roadster out of mainly bamboo and rattan in just 10 days. Known as the Phoenix, it was made to last around 5 years – the average lifetime of a vehicle in the industrialised world – so that the vehicle would not create unnecessary waste by lasting longer than is required. “This project attempts to unveil the future of green vehicles using woven skins from organic fibres mated to composite materials and powered by green technology,” stated Mr. Cobonpue.

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Now we will just have to wait and see what the future has instore for the automotive industry.