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Engineers and Farmers Combine to make Plastic Car parts out of Elephant Grass

Dr Nick Tucker and Mark Johnson with some of the products made from Elephant Grass
Dr Nick Tucker and Mark Johnson
with some of the products
made from Elephant Grass

Originally Published 1 March 2001

Researchers at the University of Warwick's Warwick Manufacturing Group are collaborating with a group of Elephant Grass (Miscanthus) farmers to use Elephant Grass to produce biodegradable plastic car parts.

Miscanthus is a hardy perennial grass producing very high yields of bamboo-like cane up to 3m tall. It is an environmentally friendly crop. It requires little or no pesticide or fertiliser inputs and it typically yields 15 tonnes a hectare in Southern Britain. Farmers already grow it for use in animal bedding, and thatching, and as a 'biomass' fuel for power generation. The University of Warwick researchers are working with a forward thinking group of twenty West Country farmers who grow Miscanthus and who have established a company - Biomass Industrial Crops Limited (Bical) to exploit the plant's potential. Bical has already grown to be a multi-national company with interests in the United States, the Caribbean and Europe.

The Warwick Manufacturing Group researchers Dr Nick Tucker and Mr. Mark Johnson are working with Bical to develop innovative uses for the Miscanthus that will give even greater commercial returns. The researchers already have a number of projects underway.

One of the most interesting of these is using Miscanthus to make biodegradable plastic car parts.

Car manufacturers will increasingly be called on not just to make and sell cars, but to have a strategy in place to environmentally dispose of vehicles at the end of their life. They would warmly welcome car parts that can simply be composted rather than putting into landfill.

The researchers have already demonstrated that they can use Miscanthus as a biodegradable structural filler in plastic car parts such as wheel trims. Short lengths of the elephant grass are used to give strength to biodegradable plastics that were previously too weak to be used in many car parts. The plastic car parts developed in this way will not degrade during the life of a vehicle but can be pushed into biodegrading if they are composted at the end of the vehicle's life.

The researchers are also developing techniques to use Miscanthus in board products, paper pulps, compressed fuel briquettes, garden candles and even soaps and hand cleaners.

The researchers' contcat details are:

Dr. Nick Tucker, Advanced Technology Centre
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 7652 2499