What’s Fast and Made of Plants? A Biobased Car

Researchers in the Netherlands unveiled the world’s first car made from 100 percent biobased materials. Image credit: Total Corbion PLA

Making a car from plants sounds impossible. But it’s not only possible—it’s been done before. As far back as 1941, in fact, Henry Ford unveiled the world’s first bioplastic car.

Ford’s car used bioplastic made from soybeans for the body. “The finished car weighed 1,000 pounds less than its conventional all-steel counterpart,” author and environmentalist Paul Hawken wrote in a chapter on biobased materials in Drawdown, his 2017 book on methods to tackle climate change.

So why aren’t we all driving plant-based cars today? Hawken continued: “Though it was created in part to aid the war effort, most car manufacturing ceased for the duration of the war and the bioplastic car was never revived.”

Until now. Last month, researchers in the Netherlands unveiled the world’s first 100 percent biobased car, made from polylactic acid (PLA) and natural fiber flax.

Bio-Based World News reported, “This is the first time that a car chassis and all bodywork has been made from natural and bio-based materials—no metal or traditional plastics were used for the structural parts of the car.”

“More and more manufacturers and suppliers are betting on biobased alternatives derived from renewable raw materials such as wood.”
Bioplastics Magazine

The car is incredibly light, and completely recyclable. “At 360kg [approx. 800 lbs], the weight of the car excluding batteries is less than half the weight of comparable production cars,” noted Bio-Based World News. “In addition to being biobased, the parts are also recyclable, resulting in a 100 percent circular car, sustainable in all life phases.”

And Biobased Maine saw Finnish company UPM Biofuels’ Biofore Concept Car, which is made mostly from biobased materials and runs on biofuel made from wood, at the World Bio Markets conference in Amsterdam earlier this year.

UPM’s Biofore Concept Car is like the whole innovative forest industry packed into just one product on wheels,” reported Bio-Based World News.

In fact, the automotive industry as a whole has become increasingly focused on adopting biobased materials.

“More and more [automotive] manufacturers and suppliers are betting on biobased alternatives derived from renewable raw materials such as wood,” the Europe-based Bioplastics Magazine wrote last year. Those biobased alternatives are “being deployed as composites in the interior trims of high-quality doors and dashboards,” the magazine reported.

The magazine further added that in Europe alone, “the total volume of biobased composites in automotive engineering was 150,000 tons.”