One of the world’s strongest natural materials, the bamboo, is of notable economic and cultural significance in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and East Asia, where it’s being used for building materials, as a food source, and as a versatile raw product. This evergreen perennial flowering plant has a higher specific compressive strength than wood, brick, or concrete, and could soon become an important material for the automotive industry. Here’s why.
Ford claims that soon some surfaces inside our vehicles could be made from a combination of bamboo and plastic to create “super hard material.” Bamboo is considered a cheap material as it grows to full maturity in just two to five years - compared to up to decades for other trees, which makes it easily regeneratable. On the other hand, its tensile strength can rival or even better some types of metal.
“Bamboo is amazing,” Janet Yin, a materials engineering supervisor at Ford’s Nanjing Research and Engineering Center, comments. “It’s strong, flexible, totally renewable, and plentiful in China and many other parts of Asia.”
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Ford engineers have discovered that bamboo performs way better than many synthetic and natural fibers in different tests. At this moment, the Blue oval company is not ready to predict when the material will find its way into a production car, but claims it can resist more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it suitable to many different applications.
Currently, the manufacturer uses several sustainable and fully recyclable materials from the nature. These include kenaf, a tropical plant in the cotton family found in the door bolsters of the Ford Escape, soy-based foams, used as seat cushions, seatbacks, and head restraints, and wheat straw, used in the Ford Flex to reinforce storage bins.
Gallery: Bamboo could feature in your next car
NANJING, China, April 25, 2017 – You’ve probably sat on it, built with it, and maybe even eaten it, but did you know that your car could be next to benefit from bamboo – one of the world’s strongest natural materials?
While investment in research has led to breakthroughs in new materials like super strong carbon fiber and lightweight aluminum, nature’s wonder material may have been growing all along and as much as three feet in a day. Soon, some surfaces inside our vehicles could be made from a combination of bamboo and plastic to create super hard material. “Bamboo is amazing,” said Janet Yin, a materials engineering supervisor at Ford’s Nanjing Research & Engineering Centre. “It’s strong, flexible, totally renewable, and plentiful in China and many other parts of Asia.”
The benefits of bamboo have been recognized for more than a century – Thomas Edison even experimented with it when making the first light bulb. In building, its tensile strength (or how much it can resist being pulled apart) is well known, as it can rival or even better some types of metal. And, because it grows to full maturity in just two to five years – compared to up to decades for other trees – bamboo also regenerates easily.
Over the past several years, Ford worked with suppliers to evaluate the viability of using bamboo in vehicle interiors and to make extra strong parts by combining it with plastic. The team has found that bamboo performs comprehensively better than other tested synthetic and natural fibers in a range of materials tests, from tensile strength tests to impact strength tests. It’s also been heated to more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it can maintain its integrity.
The sustainable journey
While tests on bamboo continue, Ford is already making use of sustainable and recycled materials. The company recently announced it is working with Jose Cuervo® to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles.
Ford uses several sustainable materials including:
- Kenaf, a tropical plant in the cotton family, is used in the door bolsters of Ford Escape
- REPREVE fabric, made from recycled plastic bottles, diverts more than 5 million plastic bottles from landfill annually. Ford most recently introduced REPREVE in F-150
- Post-consumer cotton from denim and T-shirts is used as interior padding and sound insulation in most Ford vehicles
- EcoLon post-consumer nylon carpeting is used as cylinder head covers in Ford Escape, Fusion, Mustang and F-150
- Recycled plastic bottles are becoming floor carpeting, wheel liners and shields in several vehicles including Ford Transit and C-MAX
- Recycled post-consumer tires are used in seals and gaskets
- Rice hulls are used to reinforce plastic in Ford F-150 electrical harness
- Soy-based foams are used as seat cushions, seatbacks and head restraints in Ford’s North American vehicle lineup
- Wheat straw is used in Ford Flex to reinforce storage bins
- Cellulose tree fibers are used in the armrest of Lincoln MKX. Used to replace glass-filled plastic, this industry-first material weighs 10 percent less, is produced 30 percent faster, and reduces carbon emissions