In the 1920's, cars were 70% recyclable, in the 1950's cars were 70% recyclable, and in the 1980's cars were 70% recyclable. In the last decade of the 20th century, more than a hundred years after Henry Ford sputtered out of his barn with a 1002 recyclable internal combustion engine powered horse buggy, the automobile can be built entirely of recyclable materials!
But is it, and how important is recycling to the future of the personal transporter and the environment.
The automobile is not just a technology designed for transport, but also a technology designed for commercial building of mass produced consumer products. It must be made of materials that are easy to fashion, inexpensive, safe and reliable. In the past decade, pressure has grown to add another dimension to materials used to build cars, that is material responsibility.
From Theophilus to Henry Ford engineers and craftsmen have understood the concept of responsible use of materials. They have been conscious of their intrinsic value and flexibility, recognising that they can be hard to come by and often at a cost to their surroundings. Materials have historically been used and reused as part of the nature of making things. In some instances, new products have been created so that materials could be reused having fulfilled previous functions.
It was the advent of mass production that changed much of our ideas of conservation of materials. Mass production required materials that were as much designed for their production characteristics as the qualities required for the product.
Wooden cars gave way to steel cars, and steel cars to plastic. Wood was relatively difficult to shape, was subject to variations, and expensive, steel was easier to shape, join, store, and could perform a variety of tasks by different production methods. Plastics are now replacing steel in areas where their qualities aid production, improve performance and safety.
But now, the pressure is on to create and use materials that conserve energy, art more durable, produce no pollution in their manufacture, can be reused, and can be disposed of with no damaging effects on the environment. Objectives perhaps our ancestors would have understood.
PERFECT WHEELS seeks to reveal the possibilities opened by new materials technologies. How will they improve personal transport, how they can benefit the environment, and how they can influence the direction of other technologies? Energy saving, production flexibility, safety, accessibility and cost, are now major influences on responsible consumer thinking. PERFECT WHEELS analyses the capabilities of wood, steel, aluminium, plastic, ceramics, and improvements in electronic component materials. Each material will be examined for its place in the PERFECT WHEELS personal transporter, from the perspective of energy saving, environmental control cost and safety. Material technology will compete to establish best uses for appropriate material and how each material has changed and improved to meet these conditions.
Since the 1940's, automobile production has required changes in even basic materials like steel. It became apparent that materials created by wartime research and need, particularly in polymers, greatly aided mass production and increased profits by reducing unit costs.
Steel has qualities of strength, flexibility, is relative cheap and plentiful. Its production is basic and components common and available. It is relatively energy efficient to produce, and can be used in various production techniques such as forging, rolling in sheets, pressing, milling, turning and grinding. It can be produced to exceedingly high tolerances, in corrosive and non-corrosive applications. Steel is a stable and well understood material, with a history dating back to the middle-ages.
But its strengths are also its weaknesses. Its very rigidity has made it unsuitable to meet the demands of modern safety standards.
Not so many years ago, car bumpers and sub-frames were made of steel, as conventional wisdom suggested that rigidity and strength promoted safety. If your car crashed into something, the bigger, stronger and heavier your vehicle was, the safer you were. To many people the quality of the car was determined by the gauge steel used in its bodywork. The heavy thud of the door closing, was a sure sign that the family was safe in a two ton steel box. The fact is, rigidity and weight perform exactly the opposite function, and modern cars are designed to absorb energy and reduce the trauma of impact by crumpling.
In the same way that steel replaced wood, plastics have come to replace other materials as well as steel. Unlike steel however, plastics have not been recyclable. What's more, unlike steel or wood, they cannot be returned to their original organic or molecular components.
However, not only do plastics have properties that make fabrication easier, but they have properties that help in the refining of cars, that is the reduction of heat, noise, and vibration (HNV). These characteristics save energy and in some instances, reduce the reliance on lubricants.
Plastics are also energy efficient in their shaping, joining, and basic manufacture. They are made of basic materials from a variety of available feed stocks. This makes them economically very desirable as a production material.
The only drawback has been the environmental impact of non-recyclable non degradable material.
Bio-degradable plastics have been available for some years, and new polymers that can be recycled are becoming more abundant and widespread.
But recycling can mean a number of things. Steel for example can be recycled into its original shape. A steel panel can be recycled into a steel panel. Until recently, it has been difficult to product plastics that have the same characteristics.
Now plastic bumpers can be recycled into new plastic bumpers, and new technologies are yielding advances in producing plastics that can be used in engines, transmissions, and other stress subjected parts, such as leaf springs and drive shafts.
Because plastic is such a versatile, inexpensive, energy efficient and recyclable material, it would seem to make sense to use it as often as possible in the production of the PERFECT WHEELS personal transporter. But recycling is an emerging technology, and most car manufacturers do not regard recycling as an area of profit making. The question is, who recycles, and who bears the cost.
Given that problems with recycling and producing even more environmentally friendly polymers can be solved, does this mean that the PERFECT WHEELS personal transporter will be made of plastic?
At the same time advances are being made in plastics, steel is changing. Systems of fabrication and types of steel are reducing costs and showing exceptional ability to meet new needs. As the technology of one material produces competition to others, new techniques are invented to meet that competition.
New ways of producing materials such as, cast iron and cast iron alloys are being tested and reevaluated in the light of their production characteristics, and energy efficiency.
Aluminium, long considered too expensive and too energy costly is becoming a serious competitor to steel and many of the new plastics. it has strength and is production friendly, particularly as a material for chassis and substructures. In particular it offers passenger safety advantages that are considerable. It can be cast, rolled, injection moulded and even sprayed as a coating. It can be mixed with other materials to take on exceptional strength and flexibility. Because of its cost, it is probably the most recycled material currently known. Most aluminium used today, has been recycled a number of times.
There are materials that are not recyclable, but that are of no danger to the environment and offer thermo-mechanical properties that out-weigh any production disadvantages.
Ceramics are probably one of the oldest technologies known to man. Before he fixed the first iron tip to his arrow, he had mastered the basics of ceramics. These materials offer high strength and low wear characteristics. They can withstand very high temperatures which enhances their energy saving properties.
With the demand for recyclable materials, comes the demand for energy efficient materials. Materials must be looked at holistically. How much energy does it take to produce them, fashion them into the product required, fit them, join them, recycle them. Does the production of the material create pollution, if so where does the cost of reducing that pollution land.
The understanding of materials, will be as great an issue as fuels, of emissions. Materials as all elements in personal transport has energy and environmental costs. Without the demand for balanced inventive use of materials to optimise safety, energy efficiency, and environmental friendliness, the growth in modern personal transport could add significantly to the increasing problems materials pollution. PERFECT WHEELS will explore how that balance can be made.
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