The Biofore Concept Car Grows on Trees
Mark Atwater posted on March 20, 2014 |
This car employs natural materials in "unnatural" ways.

Sustainability efforts come in a lot of different packages. Some engineering efforts involve sustainable sourcing, others involve eco-friendly manufacturing practices and still others will adopt materials with a small environmental footprint. Then there are the guys who want all of that.

And they want to base a car around it.

There is a Finnish company called UPM that knows a little about wood products, and they decided to apply it to the Biofore Concept Car. When I say they know a little, that is a bit of an understatement. They have more than 20,000 employees working in plants in 17 countries.

UPM has developed a number of interesting technologies involving engineered wood products. It is the combination of several of these materials and processes which comprise the design, and the project was a joint effort with students from the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences.

Some of the key innovations behind the effort are UPM Grada, a thermoformable ply-wood material, UPM Formi, a “cellulose fibre reinforced plastic composite with high renewable material content” specially designed for injection molding and UPM Raflatac bio-sourced labeling materials.

UPM Grada is used in the passenger compartment floor, center console, display panel cover and door panels. The UPM Formi “biocomposite” makes its way into the front mask, side skirts, dashboard, door panels and interior panels. The UPM Rafaltac is used inside and outside the car and for marking spare parts as well.

The goal is more than to put these technologies in a car. UPM wants to showcase these bio-sourced materials and their capabilities for other potential markets.

There is still a looming question. The one aspect that has seen more attention than any other from the environmental standpoint. The power source.

It’s not electric. It’s not a fuel cell. It’s a diesel. Before you dismiss the whole project as a marketing scheme, UPM has another trick up their sleeve. They happen to dabble a bit in renewable fuel too.

The Biofore car is powered by a 1.2 liter engine which runs on UPM BioVerno. The fuel is a wood-based renewable diesel, and the performance gets a boost in efficiency since the car weights about 150 kg less than comparable vehicles. UPM, then, seems to be a one stop shop for forestry-based automotive needs.

While I don’t expect a shift to wooden cars anytime soon, it is an important exercise to show that engineers can still competitively apply “traditional” building materials (think of cars from the early 20th century). This is the same premise behind cross-laminated timber (CLT), which is allowing new possibilities in building design. If we can employ sustainably-grown wood products and some clever engineering to make products more eco-friendly, I’m on board (no pun intended).

The video below discusses more about the concept car and the technologies that went into it.

Images courtesy of UPM Biofore

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