Michigan: Growing Greener Cars Using Biobased Composites
Because junk cars and their parts remain major contributors to landfills, the auto industry is actively pursuing alternatives to the plastic components used in cars. Dr. Lawrence T. Drzal, University Distinguished Professor of the Composite Materials and Structures Center at Michigan State University in East Lansing, reported on an ongoing project to develop bio-based composite materials for the next generation of green auto applications. These components would be injection-molded composites of chopped natural fibers and polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) bioplastic. Natural fiber composites are now emerging as realistic alternatives to glass reinforced composites. They have acceptable specific strength properties, enhanced energy recovery, CO2 sequesterization and biodegradability, and are also lighter, which can improve fuel efficiency, and have good impact resistance. The major drawback to most of the biodegradable polymers on the market are their high costs. Embedding inexpensive natural fibers in biodegradable thermoplastic PHB produces reasonably priced, value added, green composite materials.