DETROIT – As the auto industry becomes more environmentally aware, in an effort to keep pace with the rest of world, several myths persist about bio-based materials.

“If you talk to consumers and tell them you’re going to have a bio-based product, they think to themselves, ‘My car is going to fall apart in the rain,’” says Susan Kozora, engineering manager-International Automotive Components.

Kozora tells attendees at the Ward’s Auto Interiors Show here she hopes greater proliferation, along with improved marketing, will shatter the myth that plant-based products are inferior or not as sturdy or durable as those made from petroleum-based materials.

Bio-based products are not necessarily the same as biodegradable, she says, adding both bio-based and petroleum-based materials can biodegradable or not, depending on how the monomers are reacted and what they are reacted with.

When such materials do break down, greenhouse gases are given off, calling into question any green intention, Kozora says, adding recyclable materials should be a goal, with a long-term target of harnessing the gas emitted through the disintegration process as a source of energy.

Kozora, along with other panelists speaking about environmentally friendly interiors, admits the term “bio-based” can be confusing, and there is little oversight to determine the parameters.

“Everybody has their own definition of green,” agrees John Lyons, business-development leader for DuPont Bio-Based Materials.

Lyons says DuPont considers “bio-based” to include those products made wholly or partially from renewable resources.

However, the degree of bio-based materials in a given product can be high or low and coupled with lack of oversight can be confusing for consumers to discern.

Lyons says DuPont’s Renewably Sourced Materials program calls for a minimum of 20% renewable content by weight in a material. For instance, the company’s Sorona polymer material, which mimics nylon and can be found in everything from carpeting to clothing, has 37% renewable content.

On the flipside, Kozora says she knows of carbon-black colorant for plastics with miniscule amounts of charred cow bone. “So I can say, “My product has bio-based content, and it has 1% cow bones.”

For the near future, “with some content” will become a familiar phrase regarding products containing biomass, Kozora says. “I think 100% bio-based materials are about two to five years off.”

However, Lyons says car buyers are “months away” from seeing a wider proliferation of bio-based products in their vehicles, telling Ward’s floor mats using Sorona will appear in a vehicle later this year.

While he says he doesn’t know what vehicle will use the mats, he believes bio-based automotive products will follow the usual trajectory of starting in premium models and working their way down into mid- and lower-priced vehicles.

Lyons also says a natural market for bio-based materials will be hybrid-electric, pure-electric and fuel-cell vehicles.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com