Saturday 21 October 2017

Green car made out of sugar may not be such a sweet deal for drivers

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Ellie Donnelly

Ellie Donnelly

What's made of sugar, can carry four people and travel at 50 miles an hour? A biodegradable car - whose inventors say could be the next step in environmentally-friendly motoring.

The lightweight electric car, created by students in the Netherlands, is made of a resin derived from sugar beets and covered with sheets of Dutch-grown flax.

"Only the wheels and suspension systems are not yet of bio-based materials," said Yanic van Riel, one of the developers from the TU/Ecomotive team at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

The structure of the car they have called Lina has a similar strength-weight ratio to that of fibreglass and weighs only 310 kg (about 684 pounds).

But the prototype has not yet passed crash tests, because the material "will not bend like metal, but break", said the team's leader Noud van de Gevel.

Demands to reduce air pollution and tackle climate change have pushed car companies towards alternative designs, but most still require a great deal of energy to make.

"Energy that is saved while driving the car is now spent during the production phase," van de Gevel said.

The TU/Ecomotive team plans to test drive Lina later this year, once it is given the green light by the Netherlands Vehicle Authority.

Meanwhile, for more mainstream carmakers the shift from petrol and diesel engines to electric cars is set to speed up a shift to more lightweight materials in order to extend the driving range of battery-powered vehicles.

Batteries are heavier than conventional engines, and if that doesn't change the challenge will be to shave weight elsewhere on the car.

That has big implications for the steel industry - the current go-to material for car makers with predictions that alternatives will increasingly take over. India's Tata Steel however, claims that the likes of aluminium and carbon fibre will not replace steel because the alternatives are prohibitively expensive, and are harder to recycle.

In a report called 'Charging towards a sustainable future' Tata argues that the shift to low emissions vehicles could see consumers look at the wider environmental impact of cars, and that advanced steel products - because it can be endlessly recycled - will be seen as more attractive than alternatives.

The ultimate mix of materials that will go into car body parts has yet to be determined, but producers of processed lithium - an essential element for batteries used in electric cars - are already agreeing long-term contracts with their customers to fund the investments needed to address a looming shortfall.

Demand for battery-grade lithium compounds is expected to skyrocket in the next decades in tandem with soaring demand for electric cars as governments and individual consumers try to reduce their carbon footprint. Although there's plenty of lithium around, the problem is ensuring there is enough capacity to process it.

Battery makers and other end-users such as car manufacturers will need to sign multi-year deals that encourage large producers to invest more faster, industry sources say.

"We've established the timeline for our own expansion based on the commitments our customers are making with us," said Tom Schneberger, global business director at US-listed FMC Lithium, one of the top four producers.(Additional reporting Reuters)

Irish Independent

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