Bill Ford’s great-grandfather proclaimed in 1934: “I foresee the time when industry shall no longer denude the forests which require generations to mature, nor use up the mines which were ages in the making, but shall draw its raw material largely from the annual products of the fields. I am convinced that we shall be able to get out of the yearly crops most of the basic materials, which we now get from forest and mine. We shall grow annually many if not most of the substances needed in manufacturing.”
"The use of vegetable oils for engines [now called Bio-Diesel] may seem insignificant at this time. But such oils may become in course of time as important as Petroleum and Coal tar products of today"; so said Rudolf Diesel in 1912.
And Gandhi lamented "The Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed”. — Did he refer to the oil companies?
Did we ignore all the wise people of the last century? Did we need several oil crises, a financial crisis, and the near collapse of the auto industry to recall what Henry Ford and Thomas Edison advocated a lifetime ago?
Recent reports told about Lotus displaying an eco-friendly car at the London auto show. Yes, Lotus of racing and engineering fame has produced the Eco-Elise with natural materials: hemp from neighboring farms, and wool from nearby flocks of sheep.
Organic cars? Do these environmentalists not shy away from anything? Hold on - it’s not just the tree huggers any longer, it’s the ‘bean counters’ getting on the alternative-everything bandwagon now. Green cars produce black numbers on profit & loss sheets — far too much red ink has leaked into the Detroit River and others in bygone years.
Rewind to just about eighty years ago: Henry Ford at the time persisted: “When that day comes, and it is surely on the way, the farmer will not lack a market and the worker will not lack a job. More people will live in the country [again?]. The present unnatural condition will be naturally balanced again. Chemistry will reunite agriculture and industry. They were allowed to get too far apart and the world has suffered by the separation.”
Lotus has for many years offered new ideas and products to other carmakers around the world. Until recently, these have been mostly hi-tech, cutting-edge innovations.
The new state of the art “comes naturally” from Lotus and other engineering development firms. To repeat: the Hethel company displayed a changed production version of their Elise sportscar. The ‘Eco Elise’ features hemp, eco-wool and sisal for interior trim and for body panels. Not only is the Eco version 32 kg (70.5 lbs) lighter than the standard production model, it is also painted with water-soluble paint.
Not only is the car that much ‘greener’, Lotus has also cleaned up the production process by a considerable margin. Compared to the previous year, use of electricity is down by 14%, use of natural gas is 30% lower, water consumption fell by 11% and 57% of production waste materials are now recycled.
These figures are drastic, but must be considered accurate, since Lotus offers the technology to other manufacturers.
The hemp from local farms cuts down on transportation cost, the wool from nearby sheep herds practically walks to the production plant and the new, flexible photo-voltaic (solar) panels sewn into the Eco Elise’s organic convertible roof allows a smaller alternator to keep the battery charged.
The hemp already absorbs CO2 while it is growing in the fields, and the resin used to bind it into body panels is of a new biodegradable type.
Lotus has developed the water-based paint system with Du Pont; for the first time, this includes primer, color coat and lacquer.
Lotus, McLaren, Porsche, and other small specialty car companies seem to attract so much engineering talent that more innovations are originating at these firms than at the large corporations.
Lotus is not trying to reinvent the wheel, but even those are no longer of metal alloy but of organic reinforced fibers on the Eco model; and we thought magnesium rims were light.
At long last Ford again uses -after three quarters of a century- natural fibers in the interior of some cars, among them the new Mustang; organic fibers from Soy and other plants, instead of petroleum-derived materials. You may recall that Henry Ford used Hemp –where did people go wrong with this stuff?- as lining for the interior and side panels of the Model T. The impact strength of these was multiple times higher than steel alone. The Model-T engine was also prepared to run on Hemp fuel [we now call it ethanol], which grew on Ford farms.
Bio engineers estimate that Hemp could and would be used to produce more than 50,000 products if it were legal in America at this time of need.
Finally now, clever cars are being built, (named smart and iQ) which require less material to produce and less fuel to run. Crude oil has eased from trading at $147.00 per barrel, but all indications are that it will return and climb even beyond that.
Other automakers have started to accelerate the ‘organic bandwagon’: Herbert Kohler of Daimler said: “Bio products are an integral part of our road-map towards sustainable mobility.”
Peter Reimers, General Manager of European Chemicals added: “By diversifying the world’s material and energy supplies, we could increase global security and create for many nations the ability to produce products from local sources.”
Another auto executive observed, ”A biological car is not just around the corner, but the concept is most definitely on the road again. Natural products are competing with petroleum products in a small part of the automotive market, and dozens if not hundreds of new products may soon be entering the market. And this time we are not talking about a single demonstration car constructed by one visionary but about a number of commercially viable companies producing bio-based parts for use in millions of cars.
Ford's dream may yet see the light of day, although by way of a path, and for reasons he probably never imagined.”
Are we getting close to realizing Henry Ford’s vision of the future? Look again at the pictures at the top and check out this link — we are closer to ‘the organic car’ than you think.
BTW, we hope you will permit this writer to promote his eBooks at the links, where much of this “Fuel for Thought” is treated at length.