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The Pulpmobile

With newsprint demand down, a Finnish papermaker is now developing "an eco-friendly wooden car," reports Kasper Viita in Bloomberg Buisnessweek (2/6/14). The concept car, known as the Biofore, "also runs on fuel made from papermaking byproducts." "We wish to demonstrate that these materials respond to the needs of the automotive industry," says Juuso Konttinen of UPM-Kymmene, the papermaker turned carmaker. The Biofore "meets all European crash and fire safety standards and offers all the features of a conventional car."

UPM’s technology "uses heat-shaped plywood and pulp fiber to reinforce plastic car parts." It looks and performs much like other composites, "such as fiberglass, UPM says, and can reduce a car’s weight by more than 15 percent." "Everyone is striving for lightness now," says John Heitmann of University of Dayton. Indeed, Ford is turning to aluminum to reduce the weight of its F-150 pickup truck, and BMW is using "carbon-fiber bodies to reduce weight." Renault is using "hemp fibers in body panels and trim … to replace as much as 10 percent of the plastics in its cars."

Wood cars is hardly a new concept: "The world’s first cars … were largely made of timber … British sports car maker Morgan Motor … has been using ash frames in vehicles for decades … Still, wooden car developers face significant hurdles," as most carmakers lack the machinery or knowhow to work with wood. However, industrial designer Joe Harmon, who in 2008 developed a wood concept car called Splinter, sees an upward trend as energy costs rise. "Wood uses very little energy in manufacturing, especially when compared with aluminum, steel and carbon fiber," he says. Others note that wood offers a certain aesthetic, as much as environmental, appeal.