(Brownish) Green Acres

Although agriculture is not something that we ordinarily (or ever) write about here, activities that Bridgestone Americas is undertaking in the southwestern portion of the U.S. is of note:

It has invested more than $100-million in research into guayule, a woody desert shrub that grows in places where many other plants would wither, and has just announced an additional $42-million to develop the means by which there can be commercialized planting and harvesting of the shrub at scale.

No, Bridgestone is not getting into the nursey business for cacti and the like.

Rather, it is developing guayule as a source of natural rubber.

Yes, rubber that can be used to produce tires.

It made its first guayule-based tire in 2015, and as part of its continuing of its developmental work, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix IndyCar race that was held in Nashville (home of Bridgestone Americas’ HQ) earlier this month had the tires as alternates for the race cars.

The guayule plant and a tire made with rubber from the shrub. (Image: Bridgestone Americas)

While it has a 281-acre guayule farm in Eloy, Arizona, the new investment will include working with farmers and Native American tribes to up the acreage to about 25,000 between now and 2030.

Nizar Trigui, Chief Technology Officer and Group President, Solutions Businesses, Bridgestone Americas, Inc., said, “With guayule, we can reduce the environmental impacts that come with overseas sourcing while also realizing a more sustainable agricultural system for parts of this country that are facing persistent and worsening climate conditions, so it’s really something with many benefits for our environment and our economy.”

According to Bridgestone, more than 90% of the world’s natural rubber come from para rubber tree plantations that are located in Southeast Asia. Although the trees originated in Brazil, in the early 20th century South American Leaf Blight hit the crops, which is why there was the shift to the other side of the world.

That said, turns out that white root rot disease is on the rise there, so presumably guayule is a really good idea for simply being able to make tires going forward.

Ford Using Waste Plastics from Oceans

But the amount is, well. . .

Citing a figure from the Pew Charitable Trust, Ford Motor says that there are up to 13 million metric tons of plastic deposited in the world’s oceans each year.

Part of that waste consists of plastic fishing nets.

So working with DSM Engineering Materials, Ford is taking the discarded nylon fishing nets, transforming them into pellets, that are then injection molded by HellermannTyton into wiring harness clips.

Clip made with recycled plastic from the ocean. (Image: Ford)

The clips are used to guide the wires that power side-curtain airbags in the Bronco Sport.

While this is certainly laudable, there’s one thing to take into account.

Each of the wiring harness clips weighs about five grams.

One ounce is equal to 28 grams.

There are 35,274 ounces in a metric ton. Or 987,672 grams.

A lot of clips are going to be necessary to put a dent in the ocean.

EVs Can Be More Green

Assuming you’re concerned with your carbon footprint

By Gary S. Vasilash

Polestar, the growing EV brand, is running life cycle assessments of putting its vehicles on the road, from start to finish.

One of the areas of focus is on the materials and manufacturing. They can deal with the carbon footprint there.

But then the vehicle goes into the hands of consumers.

And then they reach the end of their usefulness and are recycled (good) or scrapped (bad).

Polestar has expanded its focus to the vehicle-in-use stage. To that end it is working with a Dutch solar designer, Marjan van Aubel, working on increasing the amount of vehicle charging that is being performed via renewable sources.

Van Aubel: “There still needs to be significant integration. Solar energy only accounts for a small percentage of the electricity in the European grid, and just 34% of the energy we use comes from renewable resources. But together, we’re expanding the possibilities of generating energy from wind, water and solar sources. Designers are coming up with completely new ideas, too. They are proof that we are well on our way to creating a fully renewable energy grid and truly sustainable electric mobility.”

Here’s something to consider: In the U.S. solar adds 3.3% to the grid.

The importance of renewables in charging an EV: Polestar has determined that by using renewable electricity the carbon footprint of an in-use EV can be cut in half.

Non-trivial.

Conti Goes Renewable for Tire Concept

Yes, even reused water bottles make the mixture

By Gary S. Vasilash

Tires are made of lots of materials. Yes, there is natural rubber. And synthetic rubber.

There are carbon black and silica.

There are cables, both metal and textile.

And there are various chemicals added for good measure.

Continental has developed what is says is a considerably more sustainable tire, one that has more than 50% of its materials being traceable, renewable and recycled.

There are lots of organic materials, including the natural rubber from dandelions (not necessarily the ones you have in your lawn, but similar), silicate from rice husks, and vegetable oils from, well, vegetables rather than petroleum products from prehistoric plant matter and sea creatures.

Conti’s clever “green” tire. (Image: Continental)

Thirty-five percent of the Conti GreenConcept tire (yes, this is still conceptual; you can’t get one—yet) consists of renewable raw materials.

Then there are recycled materials, which account for about 17% of the tire. Things like the polyester recovered from PET bottles—bottles that are used for soda and water.

Another clever aspect of the tire is that it is lighter than a comparable conventional one. This helps lower the rolling resistance, and that means that less energy is necessary to turn the tires. This can mean as much of an improvement of 6% in the range of an electric vehicle.

(It knows a little more than a little about EVs as it has its tires on EVs from companies ranging from Audi to Vinfast—and, yes, Tesla.)

According to Continental CEO Nikolai Setzer, “Continental will completely convert its global tire production to the use of sustainable materials by 2050 at the latest.”

While that might seem like a long time, they’ve been making tires for some 150 years, so it is relative.

BMW Goes Circular

No, not the roundel logo. The way it is conceiving and building its vehicles

By Gary S. Vasilash

When people think/talk about environmentally appropriate vehicles, the tendency is to talk about the tailpipe—or the lack thereof.

That is, an electric car (no tailpipe) or a fuel-cell-powered car (which has an exhaust to let the water vapor escape) is seen to be good because it is an electric car or a fuel-cell-powered car. (Trucks and SUVs can be used in place of “car.”)

But what somehow gets overlooked is the fact that there is a heck of a lot more to a motor vehicle than the type of propulsion system that it uses.

There is all of that other “stuff” that goes into making a vehicle.

BMW i Vision Circular (Image: BMW)

Things like the chassis and the body panels. The steering wheel and the seats. The carpet on the floor and the headliner on the ceiling.

And so on.

The production of these things has an effect on the lifecycle emissions of a given vehicle.

Sure, the use of the vehicle has a huge impact on the vehicle’s effect on the environment.

So while it is not exactly a leader in the electric vehicle space, which is leading some people to raise an eyebrow, credit to BMW for introducing a concept vehicle at the IAA Mobility 2021 event (what used to be known as “the Frankfurt show” until it was moved, this year, to Munich) that has an absolute basis in sustainability.

It is called the “BMW I Vision Circular.”

“Vision,” I suppose, because this is something that is for 2040.

“Circular” because the vehicle is entirely developed and built using principles of the circular economy, as in it is built with 100% recycled materials and 100% of those materials can be recycled again.

Even the battery for this electric vehicle, a solid-state battery (of course, although BMW is working on this technology, it is still a ways off for production vehicles, but works quite well in a one-off concept) is designed to be recycled.

While recycled materials have generally thought of as having a premium price, BMW chief Oliver Zipse made an interesting observation: “the current trend in commodity prices clearly shows the financial consequences in store for any industry that is reliant on finite resources.”

Environmental Stats

Sure, U.S. voters don’t like greenhouse gases. But others ought to dislike them more and do something about it

By Gary S. Vasilash

While cars and trucks are certainly not the only contributors to noxious emissions, they provide more than a minimal amount, to understate the case. Wildly.

So with that in mind, it is interesting to look at some of the stats from a survey conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication.

The survey was conducted among registered voters in the U.S. from March 18 to 29, 2021.

Among the findings:

  • 61% think the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions regardless of whether other countries do or not
  • 65% think the U.S. should be doing more to address global warming
  • 71% think other industrialized countries—as in England, Germany and Japan—should be doing more to address global warming.

And there you have it: Someone else should do more to take care of the problem.