Eindhoven University students develop car made entirely out of recycled waste

With this zero-waste car, the team wants to show that waste can be a valuable material with a multitude of applications including a sustainable car like Luca. 

Autocar Pro News Desk By Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 14 Oct 2020 Views icon6658 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp

Every year, Netherland-based student company TU / ecomotive produces an electric car with a team of 21 BA students from the Eindhoven University of Technology, in the aim of showing the world that the hypothetical, sustainable car of the future, can be a reality today.  

The design of the sixth TU/ecomotive car, Luca, was revealed on October 8, 2020. With this zero-waste car, the team wants to show that waste can be a valuable material with a multitude of applications. 

Luca is made of materials that are normally thrown away. The chassis is comprised of flax, recycled PET and PP coming straight out of the ocean, the seat cushions are made coconut fibre and horsehair, and the front and rear parts of the chassis are made out of a tube frame from recycled aluminium. 

Luca’s body made by TU/ecomotive out of UBQ, a patented novel climate-positive material created by Israeli start-up UBQ Materials

Luca’s body was manufactured by TU/ecomotive out of UBQ material. UBQ is a patented novel climate-positive material created by Israeli start-up UBQ Materials that can substitute conventional plastic, wood and concrete in the manufacturing of everyday products. UBQ is a proprietary composite, the world’s first bio-based material made of unsorted organic, paper and plastic waste – everything from banana peels to dirty diapers to used yogurt containers and cardboard. 

The central value proposition of using UBQ is its sustainability metrics, significantly reducing and even neutralizing the carbon footprint of final applications. By diverting household waste from reaching landfills, UBQ prevents the emission of methane, ground water leakage and other toxins. According to Quantis, a leading provider of environmental impact assessments, every ton of UBQ material produced offsets 11.7 tons of CO2 equivalent, qualifying it as ‘the most climate positive thermoplastic material on the planet.” 

According to Christopher O’Brien de Ponte, account manager at TU/ecomotive, “Luca only scratches the surface of the potential use cases of the material. TU/ecomotive is very much looking forward to continuing to use UBQ in future cars, expanding its applications, and to continue its mission to prove that there is value in waste.” 

This is isn’t the first time UBQ is used in automotive manufacturing. In early 2020, UBQ Materials announced its collaboration with Daimler, manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz, for the implementation of UBQ in car parts and throughout Daimler’s supply chain.  

India's Motherson Group has teamed up with UBQ Materials, to produce carbon-neutral moulded parts from UBQ’s polymer compound. The team is working on determining its fit for automotive use in interior parts and are testing to ensure it is odour-free and suitable for its intended use. The next step will be to produce an automotive exterior part using this compound and getting it to serial production in the future.

Lightweight and highly energy-efficient
Luca is designed to be highly energy-efficient. The car’s in-wheel motors mitigate losses in the drivetrain, and the two electric motors have a combined power of 15 kW, powered by six modular battery packs. The packs are easily replaceable, so that when new technology is available in the future they can be seamlessly substituted by full packs and more modern batteries. 

The car reaches a top speed of 90kph and a range of 220 kilometers. Convert this electric range to fuel economy and Luca provides an approximate range of 180 kilometres per litre of petrol. Besides the efficiency provided through its electric drive train, a great deal of Luca’s efficiency comes from its lightweight construction: the car only weighs 360kg without batteries. That is more than half of the weight of comparable cars. Besides, the car only requires a total of 60kg of batteries, which in comparison to the hundreds of kilograms for other electric cars, stands as another attribute to its resourceful design.

Plastic out of the ocean
The chassis of Luca consists of a unique sandwich panel that the students have developed in collaboration with several companies. The sandwich panel consists of three layers: the two outer layers which are made from a combination of flax fibres and a plastic taken from the ocean, and a middle layer, namely a PET honeycomb core.

This combination ensures that these materials together have maximixed their strength by pushing the materials beyond their normal end of life applications. An example of this is the core which is made 100% from recycled PET bottles.  As PET can only be recycled 10 times, by implementing it in a car, the lifecycle can be drastically extended. After all, the lifespan of ten cars last longer than that of ten plastic bottles.

The rest is also taken into account
The implementation of waste, however, does not end there. For example, the body of the car is made out of recycled ABS, a hard plastic used in lots of consumer products, like toys, televisions and kitchen products. The car gets its yellow colour because of a wrap, a colored foil, instead of a paint job. This foil can be removed without leaving any residues. This leaves a clean plastic thatrequires little to no refinement in its recycling stream. The side and rear windows are also made out of recycled materials. The recycling process gives the windows a luxurious, black tint. Sustainability can be anything but boring.

The interior also features lots of waste materials. For example, Luca has two very comfortable, custom seats, of which the cushions are made out of a combination of coconut fiber and horsehair. The fabric surrounding the cushions is made out of recycled PET but looks and feels like suede. The middle tunnel showcases the use of a plastic that is derived completely unsorted household waste. Besides this, even residual waste from the manufacturing process of the car itself it used, by consolidating the off-cuts from the outer layers of the sandwich plate.

Circular economy
All this creates the sporty, sustainable Luca. “The team want to show that sustainable technology can be sexy, by implementing waste as a valuable material into a sporty looking car,” says team member Lisa van Etten. This way, the team hopes to make people and industry aware of their consumption and contribute to the development towards a circular economy.

The next step for TU/ecomotive is to obtain a license plate for Luca. By ensuring that the car is road legal, the team wants to prove that sustainable innovation is readily available to implement across the automotive industry.  

Photos: Bart van Overbeeke

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