Interest grows in plant-based auto parts based on University of Guelph research

Posted on Thursday, September 24th, 2015

GUELPH — With many vehicle interior parts made of petroleum-based plastics, the search is on for viable alternatives from agricultural byproducts like certain grasses.

"The automotive industry is very, very interested to have bio-based materials," University of Guelph plant agriculture professor Amar Mohanty said Saturday. He's director of the campus's Bioproducts Discovery and Development Centre, which scored another coup recently.

His team was recognized at the 2014 Auto21 conference two weeks ago for its research on hybrid composite materials for making vehicle interior parts.

This group, which included grad students and research associates Vidhya Nagarajan, Arturo Rodriguez and Kunyu Zhang, was honoured for a brief video of their work, as well as a research poster, a visual overview and summary.

They placed first for both the three-minute video and research poster in competitions among 50 teams at the national event.

Mohanty co-led the local Auto21 competition entry with a colleague at the University of Guelph, Mohini Sain.

Auto21 chief executive and scientific director Peter Frise said, following the May 28 conference in Niagara Falls, Canada must go beyond its basic manufacturing competence to develop innovative new products in order "to compete in the global marketplace." Auto21 is part of a network of centres of excellence in Canadian research.

Benefits of adding biological-based components, typically agricultural byproducts like switchgrass, to petroleum products is decreasing vehicle weight, improving parts integration, meeting fuel standards and reducing gasses contributing to global warming.

Mohanty said in a brief telephone interview a main goal is to create bio-based automotive parts that are competitive to conventional ones, but with advantages like their environmentally-friendly aspects, while maintaining the desirable characteristics of petroleum products.

The new, innovative ones also make good use of agricultural byproducts common to Ontario farms, like perennial grasses.

Creating such new products from basic farm materials adds value to those farm enterprises, taking Canadian operations beyond production of basic materials alone, Mohanty said.

Bio-based car parts were in the news last week as well.

Ford Motor Co. and the ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co. announced they are teaming up on research to turn tomato skins into auto parts.

Scientists at both companies believe they can use tomato fibres to manufacture composite materials used for wiring brackets, or storage bins in cars instead of petroleum-based plastics.

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