Finnish papermaker UPM-Kymmene Oyi has developed a new car built mostly by using wood-based material. The Biofore concept car, a joint production of UPM and Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Science, will premiere at the 84th Geneva International Motor Show in March 2014. A first-of-its-kind in many respects, the concept car is designed to be a futuristic, but legal, vehicle that is intended to demonstrate the use of renewable biomaterials for the automotive industry.
The Biofore car is not a throwback to the wood-paneled station wagons of the 1960s. The primary purpose of this new "wooden car" is to highlight the capabilities and versatility of wood-based compounds to automotive manufacturers and their suppliers. UPM's timing is providential. Automakers around the world are currently revamping their design processes to find new materials that lighten their vehicles to increase fuel economy without sacrificing safety or durability.
With a frame built with compounds using pulp and finished wood products, the car will also run on a bio-based fuel derived from wood waste products. Part of UPM's Biofore project, the vehicle uses off-the-shelf products and is designed to meet European standards for crash and fire safety, but offer the comforts of a conventional car. Along with weight savings, using wood in the fabrication process consumes less energy during production.
Many of the plastic components found in most cars have been replaced with bio-based materials in the Biofore concept car. Parts were made of UPM's Grada Thermoformable wood material and UPM Formi cellulose fiber bio-composite. These materials will significantly improve the overall environmental performance of the car without compromising quality or safety. UPM Raflatac materials will be used for spare parts as well as incorporated into the interior and exterior design of the car.
Exhibiting at a world-class industry event will draw international attention to the concept car, the students and other partners involved in the building process. Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, is Finland's largest university of applied sciences, educates future professionals in the fields of culture, business, health care and social services, and technology. "From the very beginning we have aimed to showcase the car in Geneva. In fact, we have phased the project accordingly," said Pekka Hautala, Technology Manager from Metropolia.
About 50 technicians have worked a total of 30,000 hours on the car and its first test drive was conducted in pouring rain to dispel concerns about the car's ability to handle moisture. UPM says the bio-based materials, UPM Formi biocomposite and UPM Grada thermo-formable wood material, use heat-shaped plywood and pulp fiber to reinforce plastic and are competitive with other composites such as fiberglass. If used properly in a vehicle, wood composites can reduce total weight by as much as 15% without compromising safety.
When the project began in 2010, the focus was on designing an environmentally friendly car for the "imagined end user;" an urban pioneer with green values and dedicated to living a sustainable lifestyle. The Biofore concept car was designed by following the principles of sustainability and recyclability. It has a modern internal combustion diesel engine and is driven with UPM BioVerno, the novel wood-based renewable diesel made 100% from outside the food value chain. Most of the components were specifically designed to showcase this innovative use of renewable materials. The project is a cooperation of several companies and organizations, including the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.
"When UPM came up with the idea of this car, we liked it immediately, because one of our key values is sustainability," said Hautala. "We are happy to be part of this project to bring forward the possibility of using more sustainable and ecologically friendly materials in the industry. For our engineering and industrial design students, a project like this is an extremely valuable experience, opening many doors in the labor market."
Juha Tuomola, who is behind the design of the Biofore concept car, recently graduated from Metroplia's program for industrial design and said the chance to work on this project was a dream come true for him. "I always knew that I wanted to design cars," said Tuomola, "and it's incredible that this chance came along at precisely the right time." Tuomola is now working full-time on finalizing the car, together with Oscar Nissinen, project enginner at Metropolia, and a team consisting of Metropolia students and staff.
"I have yet to come across a car where wood, for example, has been used in the same way as in the Biofore Concept Car," wrote Nissinen in a blog post after the car was finished. "Curved lines bent out of UPM Grada composite are an integral part of the interior and, in accordance with the Scandinavian idiom, the wood will look like real wood - it will not be artificial-looking, varnished decoration, which seems to be the trend in today's cars. The bright passenger compartment brings out the beautifully lined interior panels made out of UPM Formi biocomposite as well as the bold cockpit design, which form a combination of elements not seen in any other automotive project carried out so far at the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences."
Presenting the car at the Geneva International Motor Show might be the best stage for this innovative design. "For decades now, Switzerland has provided a stage for car makers to introduce the world's most exciting new cars, concepts and prototypes," said Nissinen. "Throughout its history, the motor show has actually drawn comparisons to an art exhibition than to a traditional trade show."
It was the forest that inspired the design of the concept car, more specifically the pinecone, according to UPM. A holistic eco-design approach was used as the backbone of the project, combining UPM's expertise and technologies in its fiber-based, energy-related and engineered materials businesses. Lifecycle impact analysis was also a major driver in the research and development for the concept car.
Tuomo Äijälä, a senior lecturer of industrial design at Metroplia, said that since the mass of a car defines its fuel consumption, the objective was to make the car as light as possible, and that was made a reality with UPM's new wood-based materials. Another important objective was to show the automotive industry that these materials are a real alternative to traditional steel and plastics.
UPM claims its new bio-based materials have the same, or even better qualities, than traditional materials and they have been used in unexpected ways with the design of the car. "With our breakthroughs, fossil components can now be replaced by bio-based alternatives without compromising quality, durability or safety," said UPM's Juuso Konttinen.
Although still in the concept phase, the idea of using more wood-based materials in automobiles has found some heavyweight proponents. The automotive industry is going through a major paradigm shift where the traditional forms of power output, fuels, materials and vehicle types are being questioned. Renault is currently working on replacing 10% of the plastics used in its vehicles with "plant-based materials." Both Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen are experimenting with similar materials. American automakers have also promoted the use of alternative materials in their cars, including ways to offset the reliance on lightweight steel as the primary frame component.
This is not the first time UPM has set out to break the usual expectations of products that do not traditionally use wood in their design process. UPM's Grada has been used in various designs from lamps to chairs, winning various design and environmental awards. The company has also introduced many new innovations in its traditional wood products lines.
UPM is keeping the car under wraps before the Geneva show. Few images have been released, generating a considerable amount of media buzz before the unveiling. A number of hurdles remain before the concept car will be seen on city streets though, but UPM is committed to promoting the Biofore project and the advantages of using wood-based materials in the global automotive industry.