JAPAN: Plant-based plastics for Prius
Toyota has developed a claimed world first for the new-generation Prius recently launched in Japan and due soon in export markets - plastic components made from plants that could be grown in any backyard.
Known as ecological plastic, the plant-based foam and injection-moulded parts are found in several locations throughout the new car including the scuff plates, deck trim and seat cushions.
The plant based plastics replace conventional plastics made using petrochemicals, cutting CO2 emissions over the life of the product (from manufacture to disposal) and helping to reduce petroleum use.
Ecological plastic emits less CO2 during a product's life cycle because most of the CO2 emitted at disposal was originally captured during photosynthesis while the plant was growing.
The automaker plans to increase the use of plant derived ecological plastic in future vehicles.
While the technology to produce ecological plastic from the cellulose in wood or grass is new, the plants being utilised are ancient.
The two principal crops, kenaf and ramie, are thousands of years old, dating from the earliest days of human society.
Kenaf is a member of the hibiscus family and related to cotton and okra. Ramie (commonly known as China grass) is one of the strongest natural fibres, similar to flax in absorbency and density.
Other interior components in the new car are made from the latest Toyota-developed super olefin polymer, which has excellent recoverability and does not deteriorate even after repeated recycling.
The automaker has expanded the use of materials that are free of chlorine and bromine, while the use of PVC resin is a fraction of that used in a conventional car. Recycled sound-proofing material has also been used.
Toyota has also shown off a futuristic 1/X (one-exth) hybrid concept car that could eventually be made entirely from plant-based material, such as seaweed.