Most conversations about the environmental impact of cars focus on drivetrains — hybrid versus diesel versus electric, etc. At our two websites, and, we take a more holistic view by examining the eco-impact of the entire product lifecycle. For example, I recently interviewed Debbie Mielewski, technical leader, Plastics Research Group at Ford. She said, “One day, I hope to see the automotive world go totally compostable, removing the use of petroleum-based parts 100%.”
Ford Technical Leader of Plastics Research Debbie Mielewski observes a polyol separation in the laboratory.
The use of new bio-based materials — used in everything from seats to dashboards — could have a big impact on energy, as well as the environmental safety of passengers. That’s why Ford is expanding its use of bio-based soy foam throughout nearly all of its vehicle lineup this year as part of an ongoing effort to use more renewable and recyclable materials. Ford’s use of bio foam has helped the company reduce its petroleum oil usage by more than 3 million pounds annually and its carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million pounds annually. “Right now, most of the vehicle is comprised of metals, which are already recycled,” Mielewski said. “Plastics compose about 300 pounds of the typical vehicle, and although some of that plastic is already recycled — and we are working on technologies to recycle more — there is plastic going into landfills.” She hopes that growing materials for cars and putting them back into soil at their end of life will reduce the company’s overall environmental impact. “It’s just going to take some time, and some growing pains, to get there,” she said. Meanwhile, automakers are racing toward bringing electric cars, such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt, into the mainstream. As a result, environmentalists worry about the ability to properly recycle the batteries that power those cars. Good news: The first lithium battery recycling plants are already being established. Last year, the U.S. Department of Energy granted $9.5 million to California-based Toxco to build America’s first recycling facility for lithium ion vehicle batteries, which can be lighter and smaller, while carrying more energy and providing more power. The DOE grant will help Toxco transfer the Trail recycling process to its Ohio operations, laying the foundation for an advanced lithium battery recycling plant that can expand to meet expected rapid growth in the U.S. electric car market. To keep up with this kind of news, visit and Our mission is to provide trustworthy, clear information about the next generation of alternative energy vehicles — creating a movement of consumers eager to purchase cars and trucks that use less oil, have a smaller environmental impact and are fun to drive. Brad Berman is the editor of and