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Advanced Honda BioTech Turns Sugarcane into Car Seats

Topics:  Honda

Advanced Honda BioTech Turns Sugarcane into Car Seats

Gib Goodrich
January 2, 2013

Honda is turning green vehicles inside out with biotechnology that turns sugarcane into car seats. So-called “bio-fabrics” - essentially a combination of plant-based plastics and traditional polyester production – are lightweight, cost-effective, and very “green” when compared to normal seating materials.

If you're like me, you're probably wondering how Honda turns sugarcane into car seats. You might also be wondering if these green bio-fabric seats are every bit as functional as the regular seats they replace. The answers may surprise you.

How Honda Turns Sugarcane Into Car Seats

Bio-fabric in nearly identical to traditional polyester, a synthetic fiber formed by a process called polymerization. Essentially, polymerization involves combining petroleum-based products with ethylene and acid. The chemical reaction of these components creates polyester, but not without environmental costs. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource, and ethylene is commonly derived from petroleum feedstocks.

Bio-fabrics replace oil-based ethylene with plant-derived ethanol, and petroleum-based products with plant fibers. Since the bio-fabric production process uses the same technology as the contemporary, petroleum-based process, no new machinery is required.

Bio-Fabric vs. Conventional Seats

Bio-Fabrics aren’t new, but concerns about their durability prevented them from being widely used. Honda’s bio-fabric, known as Polyethylene terephthalate (PET), has the same composition and structure as traditional polyester making it equally strong and durable. The biomass alternative to polyester is soft and smooth, yet surprising resistant to snags and fading.

The Benefits of Bio-Fabric

Honda based their development of bio-fabric on the concept of Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), a technique used to assess environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from-cradle-to-grave. Bio-fabric offsets the CO2 emissions produced by vehicle disposal (incineration) with the CO2 absorption that occurs during the growth stage of the plants used to create the ethanol.

A more immediate benefit of Bio-fabric is the 10-15% less energy needed for production. The production also creates 30% less CO2 than conventional polyester made from petroleum products.

When Honda first announced their bio-fabric program, the company was using corn as the biomass for their ethanol. Honda has since switched to bagasse, the fibrous matter that remains after sugarcane stalks are crushed to extract their juice. Since bagasse is not a foodstuff, using it for Bio-Fabric doesn’t put added pressure on food supplies.

All in all, the use of plant-based materials can reduce CO2 emissions by 5kg per vehicle. While that may not seem substantial, remember that the carbon footprint made by manufacturing a new vehicle is often equal to the one left by a driving it. Honda plans to use bio-fabric for seat covers, door trims, floor mats, and any application where traditional polyester was previously used.

Author Gib Goodrich works for Honda Parts Online, a website that sells OEM Honda parts to the public at wholesale prices.

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