'Green' Car Part to Debut in 2010

November 11, 2009 - News Release

The world's first car to have interior parts made from wheat straw-reinforced plastic - created via technology that has roots at the University of Guelph - is set to roll off the assembly lines in the new year.

The Ford Motor Company announced today that its 2010 Ford Flex will include storage bins made from this bio-based material. The wheat straw-reinforced plastic was created by Leonardo Simon, a University of Waterloo engineering professor, who is part of the Ontario BioCar Initiative. This multi-university project involves scientists at U of G and the universities of Toronto, Waterloo and Windsor.

“It’s an amazing achievement,” said plant agriculture professor Larry Erickson, one of BioCar’s lead researchers.

The BioCar Initiative, supported by the Ontario Research Fund's Research Excellence Program, was started in 2007. The universities agreed to combine their research strengths and efforts for four years in order to improve the development and delivery capacity of biomaterials for the automotive industry.

“We hoped that by the end of it all, we’d have at least one car part in Ontario that came from an agricultural source,” Erickson said. “But today’s announcement means that we’re already there, and we are only two years into the project, so we are way ahead of schedule. We’re quite happy about that.”

The wheat straw-reinforced plastic that will be used in the Ford Flex originated from an earlier Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs project involving Erickson and Simon. “That work set in motion the experiments we did that led to where we are today," he said.

Erickson was also involved in the initial discussions with Ford. The automaker was looking for green technology to use in its vehicles that was low-cost and readily available around the world, Erickson said. “Plus wheat has positive associations for people; when people think of it, they think of food: bread, pasta, the staff of life.”

Using wheat-straw plastic for storage bins in this one car model reduces petroleum usage by 20,000 pounds per year and C02 emission by 30,000 pounds per year, according to a news release issued by Ford. The automaker also said it plans to include other bio-based materials in future car models.

Erickson said research into bioproducts has often been challenging because these new materials must be economically competitive with synthetic products, and offer some advantages.

U of G is also involved in another multi-university project — Auto21— that involves the creation of “green” car parts from biofibres and bioplastics. In this effort, researchers are making environmentally-friendly car bumpers and running boards by substituting renewable and recyclable engineered composites for petroleum-based materials. The prototypes are being engineered in U of G's Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre, which is headed by Guelph plant agriculture professor Amar Mohanty, who is also involved in the BioCar Initiative and holds the Premier’s Research Chair in Biomaterials and Transportation.

In the Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre, 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.

Prof. Larry Erickson
Department of Plant Agriculture
519 824-4120, Ext. 53398

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

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