It certainly is the dawning of a new era in automotive technology when the tiger in your tank becomes a moldy relic of bygone ad campaigns while the humble leftovers from harvested wheat get awards for new sustainable thinking. A. Schulman, Inc.’s AgriPlas wheat straw fiber has just been named a Blue Ribbon Finalist in Environmental Innovation by the Automotive Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers, for its application in the Ford Flex crossover vehicle.
AgriPlas’s contribution to the Flex is an injection-molded storage bin and inner lid made of polypropylene and a bio-filler made of wheat straw. Though the application is modest in scope, a spokesperson for Ford’s Plastics Research division sees it as a litmus test of things to come, in terms of increasing fuel efficiency by decreasing vehicle weight.
Ford Flex and AgriPlas Bio-Filler
For the record, there’s nothing particularly sustainable about a world full of low mileage, fossil fuel-powered vehicles. But, baby steps. The use of wheat straw fiber saves about 10% in weight, which could translate into significantly improved mileage if it replaces a large proportion of heavier components. Wheat straw bioplastics also save energy on the manufacturing side, because the process requires less heat than conventional plastics.
Straw Cars of the Future
Ultra lightweight materials could play a key role in producing transitional gains in fuel efficiency over the short term, while new concepts in vehicle energy make their way into the mass market over the long run. This could mean a much wider role for plastics in vehicle manufacturing, especially bioplastics, as well as non-bio lightweight materials such as carbon fiber.
Image: philipn on flickr.com.