One Step Closer to a Compostable Car, Thanks to Bioplastics

Tina Casey

Is a compostable bioplastic car in your future?From Cleantechnica: Some time in the sparkling green future, the global food giant Archer Daniels Midland might have a hand in developing the world’s first compostable car.  And we might have to thank the Belgians for that, too.  Sounds far-fetched, right?  Not when you throw in the U.S. military and a small Massachusetts  company that specializes in bioplastics.

The Bioplastics Connection

Massachusetts-based Metabolix is working with the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), to develop its proprietary bioplastic, Mirel™ for military use in food packaging.  The logistics are compelling.  Tons of plastic go into wrapping and shipping MRE’s and base food supplies.  Disposing of all that waste requires fuel, which in turn requires a convoy, and convoys need to be manned - and in some cases, defended.  Cutting down on non-biodegradable waste is one way to trim costs and improve troop safety.

The Archer Daniels Midland Connection

ADM has teamed up with Metabolix in a joint venture called Telles, to market Mirel bioplastic.  The first plant capable of producing Mirel bioplastic in commercial quantites is under construction next to an ADM corn mill in Clinton, Iowa, expected to go online later this year.  In the great green scheme of things, corn is not an ideal feedstock, but it’s possible that alternatives are in the future; Metabolix is working on other crops such as switchgrass and oilseeds.

Biodegradable or Compostable?

Biodegradability refers to the capability of a material to be converted into carbon dioxide by microorganisms.  Compostability is held to a higher standard - a lot of them, in fact.  In order to be considered compostable, a material has to meet standards for heavy metals and any other substance that could affect the plants that grow in it.

Enter the Belgians

This is where the rubber hits the road.  A Belgian firm called Vinçotte is emerging as a leader in certifying materials for meeting European Norm (EN) standards for compostability.  In addition to covering Europe, Vinçotte is also active in Morocco, Japan, and the U.S.  The applicable standard is EN 13432: 200.  On May 6, Metabolix announced that Vinçotte has certified Mirel bioplastic for compostability with its OK Compost and OK Compost HOME marks, meaning that the material is certified to biodegrade appropriately for compost under both industrial and household conditions.

EN Bioplastic Standards, the U.S. Military, and Compostable Cars

With the U.S. military and “supermarket-to-the-world” ADM both throwing their considerable weight behind a bioplastic that’s not merely biodegradable but compostable, there’s a chance for the economics of scale to kick in.  One thing holding bioplastics back from the mass market is price, so once that barrier falls, anything is possible.  Researchers are already working on a way to make car parts out of coconut husks, so using a compostable bioplastic doesn’t stretch the imagination that much farther.   For that matter, the U.S. military is also looking into recycling used bioplastic to make diesel fuel.  The next step: how big is the market for an edible car?

Image: " title="piles of compostable bioplastic in sight for U.S. military?">Inuyaki.com at flickr.

More cool stuff on Celsias:

 

Follow us on Twitter: Celsiastweets

2 comments

If you see any unhelpful comments, please let us know immediately.

car shopping (anonymous)

I would be terrified that it would stand up to <a href="http://autocarshopping.blogspot.com/
">car crash safety tests</a>. Or that it would dissolve in the rain.

Written in May 2009

Charles M. 110°

A biodegradable car sounds like a very bad idea. My car has lasted over 20 years standing in the rain and continues to give service. Biodegrading products prevents their reuse and recycling and needs to be done carefully.

Compostable does not always mean that the material will be successfully biodegraded as it needs a suitable environment. Those compostable daipers etc won't turn to compost if tossed into a regular landfill. Some years back there was a very interesting bit of research where some students excavated a landfill outside NTC and found perfectly preserved bread, hotdogs etc. Decade-old newspaper was still easy to read.

Written in May 2009

Add a comment
  • to get your picture next to your comment (not a member yet?).
  • Posted on May 13, 2009. Listed in:

    2 comments

    Pledge to do these related actions

    Plant fruit-bearing plants in your garden., 112°

    Why not plant fruit-bearing plants in your garden? Not only are they beautiful, they can ...

    Tell Washington: no new coal or nuclear plants, 56°

    Take action at http://tinyurl.com/alp453 The global climate crisis is the defining challenge of our generation. ...

    Downgrade your car to a lower engine capacity car., 16°

    Downgrade your large car to a smaller literage capacity car. I downgraded from a 3 ...

    Follow these related projects

    Featured Companies & Orgs