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Driving' Innovation in Biomaterials: The Biofore Concept Car

Looking around the average home, school, office, or hospital, you will find scores of everyday items made in full or part from renewable forest products-based materials. But have you thought about checking the garage?

A recent article at Forbes.com quotes research that predicts vehicle sales will rise by 3.6 percent in 2018, up from an estimated 3.3 percent growth in 2017. The article also references a report from Macquarie Bank that pegged 2016 as a record-breaking year for global car sales, with 88.1 million cars and light vehicles sold. This growing market represents a tremendous opportunity for forest-based biomaterials—particularly in view of recent public backlash against plastics-based pollution in our cities and oceans.

Many automotive manufacturers are beginning to take notice. Ford Research Scientist Alper Kiziltas gave the keynote presentation at TAPPI's recent International Conference on Nanotechnology for Renewable Materials. He told attendees that the average Ford vehicle already uses between 20 and 40 pounds of renewable materials. According to Kiziltas, the right biomaterials can yield an irresistible triple-play of desirable features: lower cost, lower weight, and high performance. "We are getting really close to implementing even more bio-renewable materials in our products," he said.

The Biofore Concept Car
To explore this high-potential market, Finland-based UPM: A Biofore Company helped create the "Metropolia Biofore," also known as the Biofore Concept Car. The four-seated (and perfectly street-legal) passenger car has been designed and manufactured in partnership with Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation, and several other partner companies.

According to the Biofore website, the Biofore Concept Car "is all about change: a change in perspective and in the global approach of using renewable materials. The car is a great example of Biofore thinking, and we believe it will be a milestone in the utilization of next generation biomaterials in the automotive value chain."

The engineering and industrial design students of Metropolia designed and manufactured the car with the guidance of teachers who have successfully carried out several internationally renowned concept car projects. The vehicle sports a 1.2 l low-emission diesel engine and is lightweight (1110 kg, or less than 2,500 lbs.)

"The Biofore Concept Car improves the sustainability of a car's lifecycle in many ways," states UPM. "First, by replacing traditionally plastic components with ones made from biomaterials, the overall weight is reduced significantly, which leads to lower fuel consumption. Second, the parts are recyclable and have a lower ecological footprint in production. All biomaterial-based components are safe, durable and ecological."

The car's design takes advantage of several different forest-based UPM products:

o Passenger compartment door, center console, display panel cover, and door panels use UPM Grada, an innovative thermoformable wood material.
o The car's front mask, side skirt, dashboard, door panels, and interior panels use UPM Formi, a biocomposite made from cellulose fiber and plastics. Formi is recyclable and offers excellent paintability, says UPM.
o Spare parts and certain interior and exterior design elements (e.g., in the engine space) make use of UPM Raflatac, self-adhesive label materials produced using a solvent-free process.
o The car runs on UPM BioVerno, a wood-based renewable diesel that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 80 percent compared to fossil fuels, according to the company. BioVerno is suitable for all diesel engines.

Sustainability plus innovation
UPM feels the automotive industry is ready for the change. "All traditional forms of power output, fuels, materials and vehicle types are being questioned. The choices we make in the near future are crucial in redefining the passenger car as a more responsible option for transportation," says the Biofore website. "We not only need to cut down on fuel consumption, but also make sure that automotive production value chains use renewable materials… Fiber-based composite materials provide similar safety, durability and quality in automotive end-uses as traditional materials. Components that are currently made of plastic can often be replaced with renewable biomaterials without any compromises."

During a press tour of Finland organized by the Finnish Pulp and Paper Technology group, Paper360° Senior Editor Graeme Rodden had a chance to meet with Jyrki Ovaska, executive vice president of UPM. In his upcoming article on the company, Rodden notes that UPM has found a way to integrate the growing bio-field with the forest to create a new, high-quality alternative to non-renewable materials profitably and responsibly. "We create value by seizing the limitless potential of the bio-economy," Ovaska said. "More and more opportunities are arising as we go along this route. It's not just about sustainability, but also innovation."

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