Toyota wants to build a car from seaweed

  • Chicago (IL) - With the entire world looking for green alternatives, Toyota is in talks regarding an ultra lightweight, incredibly efficient plug-in hybrid with a body made of seaweed. The vehicle could potentially be seen in showrooms in 15 years, but it’s definitely not coming any time soon.

    The concept builds on the 1/X plug-in hybrid concept that weighs in at 926 pounds. With bioplastics gaining popularity, instead of the vehicle having a carbon fiber body, it would instead be composed of plastic made from seaweed. Toyota believes this is a practice that will begin to catch on with other manufacturers.

    Bioplastics are currently being utilized for many things, cellphone cases and gift cards being among those items. According to USA Today, in five years it is expected that demand will increase to 50 billion pounds annually, which would account for 10 percent of the world's plastic market. Bioplastic production requires the use of 30 percent less energy than the production of petroleum-based plastics.

    Even though you want be able to see the algae car, Toyota will be showing off three of its awesome hybrids- the next generation Prius, a new Camry concept, and the 1/X which is named for its significantly reduced carbon footprint- at the Melbourne Motor Show.

    [Editor's note: Bioplastics are not a new invention. They've been researched for over a century. In the 1910s, even Henry Ford began looking at the use of hemp-based fiber fillers in body molding. Eventually, his research led to a complete car body made of hemp plastics in the 1930s. His idea stemmed from the usefulness of hemp as a crop, and of renewable materials in general.

    Like seaweed, hemp is a weed, growing basically in unhealthy soil that can't be used well for commercial crops like corn or soybeans. Ford liked the hemp crop because it grows to over 19 feet tall, can be harvested twice per year, has a very high oil and fiber content actually yielding twice the quantity fiber per acre compared wood for the manufacturing of paper. Hemp is also a very powerful bio-fuel due to its high-oil content which can literally be squeezed out of the plant and burned in an automobile engine without refining.

    Despite hemp's high use count and its ability to aid greatly in the renewable energy industries, because of its visible similarity to the marijuana plant it has been made illegal in this country. During the 1940s though, hundreds of thousands of hemp seeds were distributed to farmers in the Midwest who grew the crop to aid in war efforts (clothing, rope, medical supplies) because of its fast growth. In northern Indiana to this day, there are many fields of wild hemp still growing -- direct descendents of those wartime crops.]