Volvo is developing manufacturing techniques to realize a future where much of a vehicle’s interior is borrowed from nature. Its engineers are experimenting with fabrics, floor mats and other materials based on renewable and sustainable sources, such as hemp, jute, rapeseed and soya.
“We are taking key steps today towards Volvo cars with “hard” components such as dashboards and ceilings made of flax and cellulose rather than petroleum-based polymers, and enjoying comfortable seats using natural fibre and soya-based foam fillings,” explained Katarina Sundqvist of the Swedish manufacturer’s research and development department.
“Using bio-based products would reduce the need to transport materials, since many agricultural parts are made locally. Bio-based products are also easy to manufacture, help reduce agricultural waste and improve a vehicle’s biodegradability and recyclability.”
After two years of development, Volvo Cars has started a pilot production of a cargo floor tray that replaces the traditional polyester with 100-per-cent biodegradable flax. Easy to break down and compost, the cellulose tray also gives better noise-reduction qualities.
The natural materials used in the tray can also be used to make hard panels, such as centre consoles, or pillar panels in vehicles. Volvo also envisages using naturally grown fibres to replace glass fibre in plastics and resins.
“Not only are natural fibres such as sisal, hemp, jute and flax a renewable, sustainable resource, but bio-fibres also reduce both the weight of a car and the cost of materials,” said Anders Hogstrom of Volvo’s interior and climate-engineering strategy department.
“Replacing glass fibre with lower-density natural fibre can slash the weight of some of the materials used in a car by up to 30 per cent, contributing to lower fuel consumption and less pollution.”
The bio-based materials give improved safety because natural fibres absorb energy extremely efficiently in the event of side collisions and do not crack or splinter.
Volvo hopes to have introduced many of the new, natural-source manufactured parts by 2020.
Source: The Vancouver Province Oct. 14, 2005.