U of G to Help Create 'Green' Cars

May 21, 2009 - News Release

Automobiles with bumpers and running boards made from composites of agricultural crops such as corn and wheat are closer to hitting the open road. A team of researchers — including two from the University of Guelph — has received $620,000 to create "green" car parts from biofibres and bioplastics.

Funding for the project, which is led by Guelph plant agriculture professor Amar Mohanty and Mohini Sain of the University of Toronto, comes from AUTO21, part of the national Networks of Centres of Excellence program. The U of G project is one of 20 nationwide that will benefit from a new $10-million investment announced today. The support includes money from AUTO21, plus external funding from industry partners.

Mohanty and Sain will be creating car-part prototypes from a "green" plastic and natural and biobased fibres. The project also involves U of G engineering professor Manju Misra, Chul Park of the University of Toronto, John Kadla of the University of British Columbia and Bohuslav Kokta of Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières.

The goal is to develop a "greener" car bumper and running board, substituting renewable and recyclable engineered composites for petroleum-based materials currently used in the automotive industries.

"Biomaterials use less energy, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions substantially and will further reduce our dependence on petroleum," Mohanty said. "It will also help provide additional uses and new markets for the agriculture and manufacturing industries."

The prototypes will be engineered in U of G's Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre, which opened last fall. Here researchers are engineering new industrial crops and biomass that can be turned into green composite materials and exploring their many uses, from car parts and building materials to sustainable packaging. They are also studying innovative ways to develop biofuels from biomass.

The centre includes sophisticated injection and compression moulding equipment that can form things such as car bumpers and instrument and door panels. It's directed by Mohanty, who holds the Premier's Research Chair in Biomaterials and Transportation.

Misra's interest lies in fabricating a broad range of high-strength and superior-performing biofibres based on composite materials. There is much work to be done in this still-new field to ensure product consistency and uniformity, she said. “We're working on chemistry and engineering to reduce this hurdle.” Her focus is on integrating nanotechnology with biomaterials, which is "the smartest pathway to discovering green products of improved and competent performance."

The overall goal of this project and the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre is to find new innovations that will facilitate the transition to a biobased economy, said Mohanty.

"To be globally competitive, Canada needs to explore new eco-friendly materials that can reduce reliance on petrochemicals and potentially provide a strong foundation in renewable resource-based biomaterials for greening the manufacturing sector."

AUTO21 is Canada's national automotive research network, with more than 220 researchers at 45 universities across the country helping to advance vehicle technology. It provides funding for public/private-sector collaborative research.

Canada's NCEs foster partnerships among universities, government and public and private agencies. They are overseen by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and Industry Canada.

For media questions, contact U of G Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338 lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 bagunn@uoguelph.ca.

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