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Cars from Cocoanuts

Tires from soy flour & NEW CAR BATTERIES - At the recent Detroit auto show, desperate car companies displayed their new models to a largely bored crowd. The only thing that caught people's interest was the new electric car, the Chevy Volt. If the car companies survive, the only thing that will save them is innovation, such as helping the environment by making car parts out of biodegradable materials and by inventing more powerful car batteries.

Cars may be made from cocoanuts in the future. Researchers are trying to bring industry to Third World countries by identifying a variety of low-cost products that can be manufactured from coconuts in poor coastal regions. Their latest idea? Use coconut husks in automotive interiors.

They have developed a technology to use coconut fiber as a replacement for synthetic polyester fibers in compression molded composites. Their goal is to use the coconut fibers to make trunk liners, floorboards and interior door covers on cars.

Coconuts are an abundant, renewable resource in all countries near the equator. With an estimated 11 million coconut farmers in the world making an average annual income of $500, the researchers hope to triple the coconut farmer?s annual income by increasing the market price for each coconut to 30 cents, which could have a substantial effect on the farmer?s quality of life. Coconut fibers are less expensive than other fibers and better for the environment because the coconut husks would have otherwise been thrown away. Coconuts also do not burn very well or give off toxic fumes, which is crucial in passing tests required for actual application in commercial automotive parts.

Engineer Walter Bradley says, "Our goal is to create millions of pounds of demand at a much better price."

In 1941, Henry Ford invented a car made of plastic and soybean meal. Other researchers are now trying to create tires (and other rubber parts) out of soy flour. Will be someday have entirely edible cars?

A more practical approach may be to create powerful new car batteries. Engineers at the University of Michigan have formalized an important relationship (including $5 million of research funds!) with General Motors to accelerate the design and testing of advanced batteries for electric vehicles.

Engineer Ann Marie Sastry says, "Our shared ambition is to see electrified drive trains in a large number of vehicle types and applications. That means we need to reduce the design cycle in both time and cost."

If the Big Three car companies really can change, we won't have to keep bailing out them out in the future! (Find out what the future will bring by chatting with prophet John Hogue on Feb. 7. But you can only do that if you're a subscriber).

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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