Autos: The veggie option

Post-consumer products are increasingly finding their way into car designs.

Bunny rabbits are nibbling the wiring of the cars in the parking lot of Denver International Airport. But since the attacks seem to target cars built in the past eight years, some local mechanics are blaming the floppy-eared damage on the soy content of the wires.

In the past decade, plant-based sustainable alternatives have slowly crept into the production lines of many automakers. At BMW and Audi, for example, plant fibres are used to reinforce plastic panels. And in Ford cars, soy, post-consumer yarn and recycled plastics are common materials.

“When people think about green automobiles, they always think about fuel economy and light weighting,” says Deborah Mielewski, the polymer technical leader at Ford. She explains that using sustainable materials can now improve both, but that wasn’t the case when the company first investigated soy-based foam in 2000. The process was expensive, and there was little consumer interest. Still, Ford continued with soy experiments and eventually overcame hurdles like odour and texture.

Now, soy oil can replace up to 25% of petroleum oil, and doubles the length rubber can be stretched. And soy products that reduce carbon dioxide and improve fuel economy simultaneously will surely attract customers, not to mention rabbits.