Self-driving and smart cars have been on the sustainability radar for quite some time, offering a more eco-friendly way for consumers to get from point A to point B. But now, there might be an even better way to go green without sacrificing too much: Ford has announced that they’re currently testing the idea of using bamboo in the interior of their vehicles.
Bamboo’s strength has been well-known for centuries. It can even rival some types of metal. While other popular wood types like Northern Red Oak and North American Hard Maple receive a 1290 and 1450 on the Janka scale of hardness, respectively, Natural Solid Strand Bamboo averages at a 3780, with Carbonized Solid Strand Bamboo clocking in at just under that, at a 3646. It can also withstand temperatures of more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit while still maintaining its integrity.
That strength, combined with its renowned renewability, is why Ford thinks bamboo might hold the (car) key to ensuring superior quality while following the company’s commitment to sustainability.
“Bamboo is amazing,” said Janet Yin in a statement on Ford’s website. Yin, a materials engineering supervisor at Ford’s Nanjing Research and Engineering Centre, explained, “It’s strong, flexible, totally renewable, and plentiful in China and many other parts of Asia.”
Yin and her team have spent the last several years working with suppliers to determine the possibility of using bamboo in car interiors. The surfaces may eventually be made even stronger by combining the bamboo with plastic.
Ford’s explorations echo other eco-friendly accomplishments, like the use of console components reinforced with cellulose fibers and materials made from coconut, soy, and other natural fibers. The company also uses cotton sourced from denim and t-shirts for padding and sound insulation, as well as recycled plastic bottles for floor carpeting and wheel liners.
Many car owners still want that luxurious feel, but some are less willing to purchase vehicles that use more precious, less sustainable resources. Manufacturers around the world are exploring vegan leather substitutes, recycled fabrics, and more renewable wood sources.
Derek Jenkins, the design director for a luxury electric vehicle startup called Lucid Motors, understands that they’ll need to make cars that appeal to eco-conscious customers without losing the feel of opulence.
“It’s not just about leather, its about finding other ways forward,” said Jenkins to Wired. “How do we make felts more appealing from a premium standpoint, and durable enough to exist in a luxury car, that it feels as worthy as traditional leathers? How do we use reclaimed materials in minimal quantities, but still have maximum impact?”
While this may be a new challenge for many manufacturers, it’s one that they’ll have to rise above if they expect to make a dent in a competitive market.