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Wood Car Parts May Make Comeback in Bioplastics

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California Automobile Museum - 1950 Dodge Woodie Coronet Station Wagon

1950 Dodge Woodie Coronet Station Wagon

Remember how, back in the 80s, wood paneling on the side of your car was a big deal, often being an expensive premium option? According to new research out of Japan, those wood-covered cars may have been on to something.

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Well, sort of. The research actually was on using wood pulp to create parts to replace steel ones under the vehicle’s skin. These bioplastic parts are made of chemically-treated pulp, which consists of cellulose nanofibers (or CNFs) and is then dispersed through plastic. The resulting material offers similar strength to steel, but at only a fifth of the weight.

This could prove very exciting news in the modern auto market, where the name of the game has been lowering weight to improve fuel efficiency—according to the US Department of Energy, a 10% reduction in weight can help fuel economy by somewhere up to 8%. That would be especially good news to electric or electrified vehicles, where lower weight means longer range without increasing the size of the battery (which is the most expensive part of an electric vehicle, in any case).

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In particular, the researchers, led by Professor Hiroyuki Yano at Kyoto University, say that the material could be particularly useful in door panels, fenders, and hoods. However, the material isn’t highly heat-tolerant, so can’t be used in parts close to the engine, although a separate research group at the Japan Advanced Institute of Science and Technology led by Professor Tatsuo Kaneko is developing different biological plastics with higher heat tolerances, of up to 300 degrees Celsius (that’s 572 degrees Fahrenheit).

On the other hand, though, Professor Kaneko has acknowledged that substituting in bioplastics for some materials like glass could increase pollution since the waste from the process is non-biodegradable. However, he also pointed out that it produces less waste than conventional, petroleum-based plastics.

News Source: BBC