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Woman with bamboo

Bamboo cars are coming

While investment in research has led to breakthroughs in new materials like super strong carbon fibre and lightweight aluminium, soon some surfaces inside Ford vehicles could be made from a combination of bamboo and plastic to create a super hard material.

“Bamboo is amazing,” said Janet Yin, Ford materials engineering supervisor. “It’s strong, flexible, totally renewable, and plentiful.”

The benefits of bamboo have been recognised for more than a century – Thomas Edison even experimented with it when making the first light bulb. In building, its tensile strength (or how much it can resist being pulled apart) is well known, as it can rival or even better some types of metal. And, because it grows to full maturity in just two to five years, bamboo also regenerates easily.

Over the past several years, Ford has worked with suppliers to evaluate the viability of using bamboo in vehicle interiors and to make extra strong parts by combining it with plastic. The team at Ford’s Nanjing Research & Engineering Centre in China has found that bamboo outperforms other tested synthetic and natural fibres in a range of materials tests, from tensile strength tests to impact strength tests. It’s also been heated to more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it can maintain its integrity.

While tests on bamboo continue, Ford is already making use of sustainable and recycled materials. The company has teamed up with Jose Cuervo® to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant by product to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles.

Since 2001, a dedicated team of Ford engineers has worked to incorporate sustainable materials into Ford vehicles, while upholding the company’s strict quality and performance standards. Today, the company uses recycled plastic bottles, shredded cotton, kenaf, wheat straw, soy beans and castor oil to help reduce consumer and industrial waste, decrease depletion of natural resources and lower energy consumption.

The Mondeo and Kuga use a mixture of 50 per cent kenaf and 50 per cent plastic in inte- rior door panels, reducing individual compo- nent weight by more than 30 per cent.

Ford also is working with Heinz to investigate the use of tomato fibres in developing sustainable, composite materials for use in vehicle manufacturing. The company is a founding member of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, an advocacy group created with the World Wildlife Fund, Heinz, Unilever and other global partners, pro- moting the responsible development of plant-based plastics.

Last year, Ford of Europe achieved zero waste-to-landfill at all of its European manufacturing plants. This reduces by 6,000 tonnes each year the amount of waste sent to landfill compared with 2011 – equivalent to the annual waste discarded by a town of 12,500 people, for the 1.2 million vehicles that Ford produces in Europe annually.

By 2020, Ford aspires to have reduced its water usage per vehicle by 72 per cent and will have saved more than 37.8 billion litres of water since the turn of the millennium. That means for every 3.7 litres of water Ford used in manufacturing in 2000, it aims to use about one litre by 2020.

BAMBOO TRIVIA:

  • The origin of the word bamboo comes from the Malay word “Mambu”
  • Bamboo is actually a grass, not a tree
  • Bamboo grows natively on 5 continents: Africa, Asia, South America, North America and Australia – but not Europe
  • There are more than 1,500 different species of bamboo
  • Some varieties can grow by almost one metre per day
  • The largest species reach up to 40m high and are 30cm wide
  • ‘Lucky’ bamboo isn’t actually bamboo
  • Bamboo releases 30 per cent more oxygen into the atmosphere than other plants
  • It reaches maturity after 2 to 5 years
  • Some species survive more than 120 years in the wild
 

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