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Biomaterials and lightweight construction: on the road towards “green” cars

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The demands on car design are changing. Manufacturers of materials and surfaces are working on concepts for the mobile interiors of tomorrow. Changing requirements concerning the environmental sustainability and technology offer huge potential for innovation.

Vision of a sustainable car conceived in line with the principles of circularity for the year 2040: the BMW Group’s “i Vision Circular” concept car. (Source: BMW AG)

Biomaterials and lightweight construction: On the road towards “green” cars

Cars play a key role in mobility. However, demands on the car design are changing.

Topics such as autonomous driving and shared mobility are having an impact on vehicle interiors. And calls for more sustainability are increasingly influencing the features and configurations. As a result, manufacturers of materials and surfaces are already working on concepts for the mobile interiors of tomorrow. Changing requirements concerning the environmental sustainability and technology offer huge potential for innovation.

Growing importance of mobile interiors

The latest studies indicate that the way we view the automobile has changed in recent years. The car’s importance as a personal safe space has grown since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. And the increasing autonomy of vehicles means the focus is now moving to the cabin experience.

When autonomous driver-assistance systems take care of the driving in future, the driver will be able to do other things. And this additional freedom and comfort should also be reflected in the vehicle’s design: aspects such as cosy interiors and entertainment options will take centre stage. The technology giant Sony, for example, recently designed the prototype of a “moving entertainment space” with numerous screens for films, gaming and infotainment.

Focus on low-emission and pollutant-free materials

It’s clear that car interiors will have to fulfil many functions in future. But what will the requirements be with regard to materials and surfaces for the automobile interior of tomorrow, and what innovations are already being developed for this purpose today?

In addition to energy efficiency when driving, the focus is also on reducing CO2 levels when it comes to interior features. New surfaces for the interior are increasingly being produced with low-emission and pollutant-free materials. These are produced from renewable raw materials or obtained through recycling and upcycling processes.

With an eye on the green mobility of the future, manufacturers are also experimenting with natural alternatives and are looking to home furnishing materials for inspiration.

Alternatives to plastics and real leather

One of the aims of these developments is to cut the use of plastics and animal materials. Vegan leather alternatives made of hemp waste or recycled polyester replace real leather, which has traditionally been used in car interiors.

Highly durable bacteria-based textiles or upholstery fabrics made of coffee grounds are also used as covering materials. As part of efforts to avoid using synthetic materials, manufacturers and start-ups are developing stable wood foam and plastic made of sugar beet resins.
Besides these bioplastics, foams produced from recycled plastic waste are also increasingly common.

AMBIENC3 concept car

With its “3rd space” solution, the AMBIENC3 concept car combines driving, working and relaxing. (Source: Continental AG)

Reduced, lighter and more economical

Simulations for new electric cars assume that they will have even longer ranges in future. Other factors contributing to better efficiency when driving include increasingly lightweight materials. Reduced surfaces and lightweight materials also contribute to energy savings while driving.

The use of natural fibres such as hemp and flax can also significantly reduce the amount of material used and thereby also the weight of the car. Composite materials made of wood fibres are even lighter than aluminium, and they are being used in experiments as a substrate material for instrument panels. The production of lightweight structures using additive manufacturing processes such as 3D printing is also currently being tested.

Luxury Minimalism Concept

Continental’s “Luxury Minimalism Concept” focuses on the essentials to create the cockpit of the future. (Source: Continental AG)

The pioneering fields of technology and sustainability

Seamless interaction between humans and vehicles is another important research area for mobile interiors. The main focus here is on simplifying user interfaces. Artificial intelligence will support assisted and autonomous driving in future. Instead of having numerous screens and user displays, the cabin will then only need one central information system. That will allow intuitive displays to be completely and almost invisibly integrated into the cockpit.

The latest research shows that sustainability remains an important topic for individual mobility.

In the latest edition of the Continental Mobility Studies, one in two respondents expressed that they were prepared to pay more for environmentally friendly cars. At the same time, new technologies are always being tested for the efficient transportation of the future. Hydrogen fuel cells, for example, could optimise electrically powered vehicles in future, and significantly extend their reach. Car design is guaranteed to remain an exciting area of development for the supplier industry in future.

Are you interested in new materials and surfaces? At interzum 2023 you will find numerous manufacturers of innovative products for mobile interiors .