Dec 152011

Mitsubishi mess with mats

In the battle to make cars as green as possible, the focus has almost exclusively remained on the type of energy used to power the car. Is it electric? Is it hybrid? Is it low emissions? Too often the rest of the car, and whether or not it has green credentials, is forgotten. Thankfully a new innovation by Japanese carmaker Mitsubishi is an example where the materials are taken into full consideration. Working with Eidaikako Company, Toyota Tsusho Corporation and MRC Pylen Company, Mitsubishi has come up with a new floor mat that reduces the need for traditional petroleum-based plastics in favour of natural materials.

Mitsubishi i-Miev - Electric car

Mitsubishi i-Miev - Electric car

Molasses mats

By using plant-based polyethylene instead for the core of the new mats, the result is a product that only uses a fraction of the conventional petroleum-based polypropylene. Here it is used as a sheath to meet the high level of heat resistance and abrasion required of a floor mat while the main part of the product is made from a plant-based resin that comes from sugar cane molasses. This is a byproduct of the process in which sugar is refined: a byproduct that is usually fed to horses. Mitsubishi and its partners on the project claim the mats achieve a 15 percent reduction in CO2 emissions versus a traditionally made car mat. It plans to start producing the new bio-polyethylene mats in the summer of next year.

Interior is often eco-unfriendly

Of course, mats are not the only part of an Eco Car that relies on materials that largely derive from oil products. In fact, the vast majority of body parts within a vehicle’s interior come from petroleum-based plastics and therefore although a vehicle may rely on electrical energy to some extent, in the best-case scenario, often the interior will be manufactured entirely of eco-unfriendly plastics.

Mitsubishi develop green plastics

Mitsubishi says, however, that it is trying to slowly reverse this practice. As part of a new project with its partners, the company is undergoing research and development of plant-based ‘green plastics’ in a bid to reduce the use of petroleum-based plastics. Other products it has developed so far include wood-based resins and surface materials for the interior which are made up of cotton fibers and polyethylene terephthalate. Eventually these could form the bulk of interior panels inside vehicles which would lead to a significant reduction in the use of oil products. But that day remains some way off as at Mitsubishi many of these technologies are in the early stages of development.

First carbon neutral car

This tells us a great deal about the challenges that remain in the car industry and the extremely low point – in terms of eco-friendliness – from which we must turn things around. The first carbon-neutral car will not just be one that uses a fuel that does zero damage to the environment – a feat that remains a long way away – it must also be produced of carbon-neutral products. In reality, almost all industrial processes would have to be carbon-neutral to achieve this feat, something unthinkable right now. But the development of car mats such as these is an important step.

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