Cool Cars: Bamboo cars design inspired by green surf boards?

Bamboo Cars What could be greener than an electric car? Why, an electric car made out of bamboo and plant fiber composite that uses less electricity, of course! That is what might be on the horizon for future cars — bamboo cars that are built from light-weight and sustainable Panda-friendly products. But first, automotive manufacturers will need to overcome some heavy obstacles.

One of the known troubles with electric vehicles is it’s hard sustaining motive power based on the weight of a vehicle with a metal frame. Combustion engines [read: gasoline powered vehicles] gets around the heavy metal problem by producing more energy. Unfortunately, that power boost comes at a great environmental cost.

In order to keep electric cars in competition with gas powered vehicles, manufacturers have resorted to building hybrids. Simply put, these part-electric powered, part fuel boosted cars simply use some electricity to give them sustainable cruising go. Otherwise, they rely primarily on burning good old-fashioned gasoline when drivers feel the need for speed. That method (or equipping metal frame and body cars with hybrid power systems) reduces gasoline usage, but it doesn’t cut the use of toxic fuel oils out of the environmental protection picture entirely.

In comes Greg ‘Gadget’ Abbot.

Greg Abbot, an electrical vehicles tinkerer, saw some surfboards made from woven bamboo composites, according to Good Design. He noted that one of the popular features of the bamboo boards was the fact that they are both lightweight and durable, and he decided that such a composite just might serve as a lightweight body for an electric car, which would require something like a 200 pound battery pack added to its standard frame in order to travel 100 miles.

One of the perceived problems with bamboo, however, is it wouldn’t be durable enough to serve as an automobile body. A surfboard can handle the speed of an ocean wave while carrying a surfer on board, for sure, but a motor vehicle traveling at highway speeds being able to protect passengers? Most folks would say, “NOT”. And that is what Greg Abbot says is a notion that’s just plain wrong.

Good Design reports, “It’s a huge misconception, Abbott says, that bamboo and vegetable resin is weaker that other materials.” “Because bamboo doesn’t absorb the resin…”, he says, its stronger than one might think. Further, to overcome static and dynamic engineering concerns about bamboo being inherently a weaker material than steel, “you can build thicker composites … the strength-to-width ratio is somewhere between carbon fiber and fiberglass.”

That’s tough stuff and a bright green idea for the automotive industry. Although others have come up with similar ideas to make cars from more sustainable manufacturing materials, most have not been as durable in design or offering vehicles capable of producing as much range as Abbot’s concept car. According to Ecofriend, some researchers in Japan designed a small bamboo car in 2008, recognizing how readily available and fast-growing bamboo is worldwide.

Practically speaking, with what appears to be merely a woven bamboo body and a range of only 30 miles, the Japanese test design is impractical. Another attempt, highlighted by GizMag earlier this year, makes for what looks like a space age recumbent bicycle with a bamboo shell, but also sports a metal frame.

Still, if Greg Abbot keeps up his tinkering, he might just discover that a bamboo and vegetable resin composite could be just as strong as most carbon fiber composites, and allow for the extra weight of the battery. In that case, we can hope that manufacturers looking to fill a green niche in the auto industry can work with electric motor designers in the near future to build a car that is not only safe and reliable but that has next to no negative environmental impact.

Who knew we might learn so much about green tech from surfers? If he is right about the product viability and bamboo cars can be brought to market soon, there’s will only one thing left for green product enthusiasts to say before they start buying… Cowabunga, dude!