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Greener wheels: from ocean to highway

By May 29, 2020June 6th, 2023No Comments
© Keyshot by Luxion

While some car designers are raising their sustainability credentials by incorporating recycled materials in their designs, how can ambitions be turned into reality?

In the latest efforts to make vehicles more environmentally friendly, a handful of car designers are going beyond electric by focusing on the finer details by experimenting with renewable and recycled materials such as ocean plastic.

Developed by Eindhoven University of Technology and Israeli start-up UBQ, Luca, is the sixth car of the TU/ecomotive family and their first vehicle to contain ocean bound plastic. The chassis (frame) of the vehicle is made almost entirely from flax and 100% recycled PET and PP ocean plastic. Through an innovative design, several layers of flax make up the panels which are held together by a honeycomb core of recycled PET, which are consolidated through a heating process. Driven by a philosophy of ‘embracing waste’, the car has been designed in such as a way that the materials will be fully recyclable at the end of life.  

End of life recyclability is also an ambition for more household names such as BMW who have made the claim that 95% of the materials used in the BMW i3 is recyclable. 25% of the exterior of the BMW i3 contains recycled plastic, while 25% of the interior is made from renewable materials and recycled plastic. The panel and dashboard contain renewable materials such as 100% FSC Wood and the upholstery is made of up to 100% recycled polyester, using 34% PET.  

While the BMW i3 created a stunt for the ‘Clean Seas: Turn the Tide on Plastic’ campaign in 2018, featuring a car, half of which was made from recycled ocean plastic (image below), it remains unclear whether the recycled content in the BMW i3’s available for purchase do in fact contain ocean plastic.   

Another household brand with sustainability ambitions is Swedish car manufacturer, Volvo. For the same campaign, Volvo demonstrated their pledge to use a minimum of 25% recycled plastic content in all their cars by 2025, by creating the XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV. Over 170 parts of the original model were replaced with parts containing recycled materials. Fibres extracted from plastic PET bottles were used in the fabric to make the car seats, while discarded fishing nets and maritime ropes were used in making the tunnel console. The carpeting was a mix from PET plastic bottles combined with recycled cotton from clothing manufacturer offcuts. 

Whereas the design clearly illustrates the potential of combining sustainability with high quality design, Martina Buchhauser, Volvo Car’s senior vice president of global procurement, recognizes that:  

“…we do need increased availability of recycled plastics if we are to make our ambition a reality. That is why we call on even more suppliers and new partners to join us in investing in recycled plastics and to help us realise our ambition.” 

While car manufacturers continue to innovate, ensuring that their products remain relevant and in tune with a rapidly changing world is key. As many will continue to focus on going electric, the trend of using more recycled materials such as ocean plastic in their designs is growing – but slowly. Efforts are needed to ensure that not only availability, but consumer demand for recycled ocean plastic is there to move the cars from the design phase onto the production line.