Can light-weight cars be made of "renewable" bamboo? | RenewEconomy

Can light-weight cars be made of “renewable” bamboo?

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Could bamboo replace carbon fiber in many common auto-industry applications in the near future?

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Could bamboo replace carbon fiber in many common auto-industry applications in the near future? Could the cheap, lightweight, renewable material preempt the mainstream use of the high-tech but expensive material? Could the economic advantages inherent in the material prove themselves too good to pass up?

Moso bamboo plantation. Source: Master Garden Products

Hard questions to answer, but some people certainly think bamboo’s future in cars could be right around the corner, as new articles from BBC Autos and Green Car Congress note:

Surfboard manufacturer Gary Young uses bamboo in his boards already, and he told the news services that he felt bamboo had the potential to replace carbon fiber in automotive applications. Young’s surfboards use a special bamboo weave combined with an epoxy coating that has proven to be strong and light, but not brittle.

While it may not be strong enough for all automotive applications, bamboo parts would have a few advantages over comparable carbon-fiber items. At just pennies per pound, bamboo is much cheaper. It’s also truly renewable, with some species growing almost 40 inches per day.

Another notable advantage with regard to environmental pollution is that the dust from the manufacturing process decomposes relatively rapidly, as compared the dust from carbon fiber manufacture, or the manufacture of other synthetic materials, which instead simply sit in a landfill somewhere for a very, very, very long time.

Another advantage is that, while carbon fiber can go a long way in the reduction of vehicle weights — and subsequently, fuel-use — the material’s total environmental impact is not insignificant, as has often been noted.

Is it really “environmentally friendly” for BMW to create a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) body shell for the 2014 BMW i3 from a material imported from Washington state? A process that takes more energy than the construction of a conventional stamped-steel shell.

Or course, as BMW notes, while it takes more energy to build a vehicle like the i3 than it does a conventional model (perhaps), the overall lifetime emissions are lower. But perhaps a material like bamboo could be an alternative? Providing the best of both — relatively cheap costs, and a light, fuel-efficient body.

An interesting idea, what do our readers think?

On a related subject, while bamboo hasn’t been used in the construction of cars much to date, bikes are another matter. We recently covered just such an interesting application — Boo Bicycle’s lightweight and sturdy bamboo/aluminum hybrid bicycle. The only downside to such a bike (and most other such bamboo bikes to date) is the high price — as such bikes have mostly been geared towards the high-end crowd. Hopefully cheaper alternatives using the material become more common in the coming years.

Bamboo has many benefits. It seems only a matter of time before it’s more commonly used within our vehicles.


Source: CleanTechnica. Reproduced with permission.







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  1. Motorshack 6 years ago

    Given the present rapid rate of mineral depletion, using renewable organic materials may be the only choice in a couple of decades.

    People are rightly very worried about fossil fuels and climate change, but even if we solve that problem we have a couple more coming right up in short order. Mineral depletion is one, but the big potential killer is loss of biodiversity, which could have a catastrophic effect on our food supply.

    That is to say, farming is utterly dependent on many species of wild pollinators, and some of them are already going extinct at a rapid and increasing rate. Moreover, climate change is only one factor in those extinctions. There are others that could still leave us unable to grow food, even if we stop runaway climate change.

    Unfortunately, while city folks can usually understand the need for alternative energy sources, they are mostly clueless about the ecology of farming. In this case, what you don’t know definitely can kill you.

  2. MrMauricio 6 years ago

    go for it-as long as its from a sustainable source and does not involve cutting down existing carbon sink forests

  3. suthnsun 6 years ago

    (Bamboo) bikes, e-bikes and velomobiles for the vast majority of urban personal transport is the only long-term solution but for wide utility and acceptance must be coupled with infrastructure that effectively mimics the comfort and convenience of small commuter cars. We could do that by building single direction transport ‘tubes’ (bamboo or green timber?) with intrinsic solar powered ‘wind’ assistance and all weather comfort. If that was done intelligently the emissions cost per person kilometre travelled would be in the order of a few grams. We must stop building roads for vehicles and transport modes with no future. I’m getting all prescriptive again!

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