Eco-Friendly Cars

Greener Materials 
Much is changing in the manufacture of automobiles, and we're not just talking about the switch over to an all-electric future. There was a time when a true luxury car was equipped with the finest leather seats, rich walnut burl wood dash panels, and exotic materials. Future car materials will be even more exotic, just maybe not from sources you'd expect.
Consumer concerns over sustainability and global warming has led automakers to create vehicles powered by greener energy in order to reduce our collective carbon footprint. The move toward greener vehicles is happening fast. In fact, as of 2021, over 6.6 million electric vehicles (EV) are on our highways. America's federal government is pushing toward an all-electric vehicle future by 2030. Consumers who are not ready to make the jump to an all-electric car just yet are buying more fuel-efficient hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles that pollute less and get better mileage. 

One thing that all future cars have in common is that they will be made from more environmentally friendly, sustainable materials. Not only will the engines and battery packs continue to evolve to be better for the environment, but all of the thousands of components that make up a car will be focused to produce zero emissions and zero negative impact on the planet. Even now, automakers are experimenting with amazing innovations in materials and recycled products. Automobiles will be part of "the circle of life" wherein they are created out of components that are made to be remade and recycled. Here are some of the eco-friendly components that are coming to a showroom near you. 

Vegan Leather

 As you might expect, what has become known as vegan leather is any product made to mimic the look and feel of real animal hide but that harms no animals in the making. For years, you've been able to buy a faux-leather jacket made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pr polyurethane (PU). These are made from petroleum-based plastic that is not biodegradable. Today's plant-based vegan leather is a horse of a new color entirely. 
Car manufacturers are using organic and sustainable materials to create the leather-like seats in cars as well as the padding inside them. Vegan leather is being created out of everything from pineapple leaves to cactus plants and mushrooms. Cellulose fibers from a variety of plant materials are being transformed in seat cushions and very leather-like surfaces for seats, arm rests, and more. The resulting material is waterproof, heat and stain resistant. Automakers from BMW and Ferrari to Tesla are using such plant-based materials in their luxury automobiles. Vegan leather is completely biodegradable and can be recycled for future vehicle seats. 

Interestingly, the cushions for automobile seats were originally made from metal frame and springs covered by dense horsehair. This transitioned to polyurethane foam, and now we are headed toward all bio plant-based alternatives. Ford has been using soy-based foam for its seat cushions since 2011.

Bio-Based Materials

This leads us to a rich world of materials that are being used in cars that are all better for the planet. For instance, rich wood paneling for consoles and dash panels is being replaced by repurposed wood and even cork. Chrysler is using reclaimed European walnut wood from fence posts. Fisker is using reclaimed wood retrieved from the California fires. Toyota is using fast-growing bamboo for its Lexus models. BMW is utilizing eucalyptus wood from sustainably managed European forests. 

Moving beyond car interiors, biologically derived materials such as grasses from woven flax and hemp is being used to strengthen car bumpers and make body panels and these panels are ten times more dent resistant than steel. Believe it or not, automakers are also researching the use of bioplastics made from lobster shells. A London-based company called Shellworks extracts a substance called chitlin from fermented seafood waste to make automotive-grade biodegradable plastics. 
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Recycled Steel 
Automobiles are the most recycled product in the world and recycled steel from cars is the most recycled material with 100 percent being reused. The steel industry reclaims and reuses over 14 million tons of steel from retired cars every year to make over 8.5 million new vehicles. New vehicle regulations use Life Cycle Assessment to minimize the amount of greenhouse gas emissions created by the manufacture of new vehicles. The use of new steel made from recycled cars can reduce a vehicle's structural weight by 25 percent and cut CO2 emissions by 15 percent. That's important because steel still makes up 55 percent of the material for all new vehicles. 

Automaker Volvo is using "fossil-free steel" that utilizes electrolysis-based hydrogen to produce its steel. In a partnership with SSAB, Volvo is committed to limiting its carbon footprint with what it called the Green Steel Coalition. The goal is to cut carbon emissions across all areas of business thus lowering the environmental footprint of the auto industry. 
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Recycled Plastics 
A whopping 50 percent of the materials in cars today are made from plastic and we throw away over 300 million tons of plastic every year. A great deal of it ends up in our oceans. But car manufacturers are recycling plastics to build new electric vehicles.

Ford's Bronco Sport is the first vehicle to use 100 percent recycled plastic from the ocean. The automaker's goal is to someday use 100 percent sustainable materials in its vehicles. It has created a fabric for its vehicles seats and interiors made of recycled plastic water bottles. Likewise, the Nissan Leaf's seats are made from recycled bottles. 
A Greener Future 
The European Commission is considering rules on mandatory recycled thermoplastics to be used in all new vehicles including 25 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030. As our vehicles continue to evolve, circular design will be at the forefront of creating cars that are sustainable, eco-friendly, and work for us all.