The Biofore Concept car wants to knock plastic off of its pedestal in the car manufacturing business, replacing the petroleum-based product with wood and other bio-composites.
It wasn’t that long ago that large chunks of cars were built out of wood, but metal and plastic quickly proved more popular. UPM and the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences have joined forces to create this wood-centric car concept. Inside the Biofore the changes are easily visible all around the cabin. UPM Grada, a thermo-formable wood material, is used to construct pieces such as the cabin floor, center console, door panels and knee guards on the back of front seats.
Many other pieces of the body and interior trim pieces have been made of UPM Formi, a biocomposite made of a mix of mostly renewable fibers and a minimal percentage of plastics. UPM intends to show that the use of environmentally unfriendly plastics in the manufacturing of automobiles can be sustainably replaced with its Formi and Grada materials.
The Biofore is powered by a bite-size 1.2L diesel engine that even runs on UPM’s own wood-based bio-diesel, UPM BioVerno, which they claim can be used across all current diesel engines. So not only is it made of wood, but its powered by wood as well.
A study on the plastics that are incorporated into today’s cars found that the average vehicle contains about 330 lbs. of plastic, or between 10-15% of its overall weight. The study also found that “although up to 13 different polymers may be used in a single car model, just three types of plastics make up some 66% of the total plastics used in a car: polypropylene (32 %), polyurethane (17 %) and PVC (16 %).”
Before bringing up the obviously long life span of these plastic products, it’s important to mention that some plastics (PVC being the worst) have been found to give off numerous toxic materials as they take up our landfills.
With that brief PSA out of the way we can move on to the more visible problem with plastic, its lifespan. Even the most “environmentally friendly” plastic, Polyethylene Terephthalate, takes a minimum of 5 years to breakdown under perfect conditions, while others never degrade and may be permanent fixtures in the dumps they end up in.
The EPA reports that in 2012, 32 million tons of plastic waste was generated in the US, with only 9% being recycled. The 15 million cars sold in the US last year add up to almost 5 billion pounds of plastic sold in the American auto industry last year alone. Recent efforts such as the Biofore and University of Illinois’ attempts to turn plastic bags into diesel fuel will help emphasize how important it is to look for new ways to reduce our reliance on plastic.