A plug-in hybrid car made from seaweed is the dream of aMotor Corp. engineer responsible for the 1/X concept car to be displayed at the Melbourne International Motor Show in Australia that starts Feb. 27 and runs through March 9.
The 1/X, which was first unveiled in Tokyo and made its American debut at last year’s Chicago auto show, was given its name because it portends a hybrid-powered car of the future with a fraction of the environmental footprint of today’s cleanest cars,says.
Project Manager Tetsuya Kaida sees the 1/X as a jumping off point for greener, more-fuel efficient cars – literally.
The 1/X design concept uses high-tech materials available today but is built with the future in mind, he says in a statement. “We used lightweight, carbon-fiber reinforced plastic throughout the body frame for its superior collision safety, but that material is made from oil.
“In the future, I’m sure we will have access to new and better materials, such as those made from plants – something natural, maybe something like paper. In fact, I want to create such a vehicle from seaweed because Japan is surrounded by the sea. This is my dream.”
Such a seachange is not that farfetched. Bioplastics increasingly are becoming common, and Toyota believes it’s only a matter of time before auto makers use them to build cars.
The revolution already has started. Japanese automotive supplierCorp. said at last year’s Convergence Transportation Electronics Conference in Detroit it was looking to develop its vehicle-interior business with new environmentally friendly materials.
One of the most promising is the natural fiber kenaf, an annual hibiscus belonging to the mallow family, which includes cotton and okra.currently is using kenaf as a bioplastic in combination with petroleum-derived polypropylene commonly used in interior applications.
AOC LLC, a resin producer based in Collierville, TN, said at Convergence it has developed a type of sheet molding composite that is so new it doesn’t yet have a trade name. Engineers and executives with AOC refer to the new product as “green low-mass SMC.”
The material is eco-friendly because a component of the resin is derived from biomass, rather than from petroleum. About 30% of the resin consists of biomass, and the resin makes up about 30% of the material overall. The rest of the SMC consists of mold release agents and other additives.
The new material is lightweight because the calcium carbonate filler has been removed and replaced with microscopic glass spheres known as microspheres, the company says.
But while bioplastic component-making is a ripple in the pond, designing an entire vehicle from plant material will make the biggest splash.
“In reality, the seaweed car is another decade away,” David Buttner, Toyota Motor Corp. Australia Ltd. senior executive director of sales and marketing, tells the Sydney Herald-Sun.
“However, it shows where we’re going,” he says, adding confidently that post-2020, cars such as the 1/X will be made of plant-based plastics.
For now, Kaida says, the 1/X is helping people in various regions of the world to redefine their ideas of what it means to be environmentally considerate, as it points the way toward a more sustainable relationship between humans and the environment.
Indeed, the technologies the 1/X show car explores could be used for all Toyota vehicles, from a Yaris to a LandCruiser, he says, noting “it also points the way for a future Prius, two or three generations ahead of the current car.”
The 925-lb. (420-kg) plug-in hybrid, for which Toyota claims a doubling of fuel economy from its current production Prius, runs on biofuels when not in its electric mode.