Mazda Motor Corporation on Friday signed a collaborative research agreement with Hiroshima University to launch a project to develop a bioplastic from non-food-based cellulosic biomass and have it ready for use in vehicles by 2013.

The bioplastic being developed will not consume food resources because it will be made from cellulosic biomass produced from inedible vegetation such as plant waste and wood shavings. And, because cellulosic biomass is plant-derived and therefore carbon neutral, the bioplastic will reduce reliance on limited fossil fuel resources and alleviate carbon dioxide emissions.

The project will focus on designing a production process for an extremely versatile polypropylene, appropriate for extensive use in vehicles, by first converting cellulosic biomass to ethanol, and then investigating various mixtures of ethylene and propylene.

The polypropylene must have sufficient heat resistance, strength and durability to be used in vehicle bumpers and instrument panels. The project will also seek to optimise the manufacturing process for the bioplastic so that it is eco-friendly and cost-effective.

Seita Kanai, Mazda's R&D chief, said: "Development of a non-food-based bioplastic made from sustainable plant resources has great potential in the fight against global warming, and can help allay global food supply concerns.

"Mazda is pleased to join forces with our regional partners as we work toward systematically combining various biomass technologies. Through this cooperation, we intend to strengthen Hiroshima's position as a centre for biomass research, and develop technology that can be used throughout the world."

Mazda's previous research on biomass technology resulted in the world's first high heat-resistant, high-strength bioplastic and 100% plant-derived fabric for use in car seats, both used in the interior of the Premacy Hydrogen RE Hybrid. Powered by a hydrogen rotary engine mated to a hybrid system, the vehicle is scheduled to start commercial leasing in Japan this fiscal year.

Mazda began joint activities with the research department at the university's graduate school of engineering in 2005. This partnership's comprehensive agreement on joint automotive technology research includes biomass work.

The automaker plans to expand the collaborative research on biomass technologies and strengthen its relationship with the university for multidisciplinary joint research.

Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) will also participate in the bioplastic project as part of its ongoing agreement to collaborate on biomass research with the university.