I know, I know another concept... but body panels made from locally grown hemp, water based paint, solar panels, manufacturing energy efficiency...this is more than just a car concept, this is a sustainable process that shows that there is more to sustainability in the automotive industry than just fuel efficiency.
Fuel efficiency is probably the most important factor in greening the road, but we mustn't forget how we are making these vehicles. With around 50 million cars manufactured each year, how we make them has a huge impact on the environment as well.
Mindful of this, Lotus has taken a holistic approach with their Eco Elise roadster, endeavoring to reduce the car's environmental impact by focusing on how it is made as well as how it performs:
- Creating cleaner manufacturing processes
- Using sustainable materials
- Reducing carbon impact of logistics
- Developing renewable energy generation
- Promoting efficient driving techniques
- Reducing vehicle weight to improve fuel efficiency
By using the 3 R's (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) Lotus has taken great care to reduce the amount of energy that is used in their process and the amount of waste that is created during manufacturing as well as at the end of the vehicle's life. At their Hethel England headquarters they recycle 57% of their waste and have been able to reduce electricity consumption by 14%, gas 30% and water 11% from their 2006 levels.
Working in conjunction with Du Pont, Lotus has developed a totally water-based paint system. This paint solution includes primer, color coat and lacquer and greatly reduce the amount of solvent emissions. This paint has a very low cure temperature allowing them save energy during the painting process.
Lotus uses Hemp composites in the body and interior of the Eco Elise. Hemp is a rapidly renewable resource that takes very little energy to produce. Mixed with a polyester resin the hemp forms the body panels and the seats. While the resin is not recyclable they are in the process of finding a recyclable replacement. The seats upholstery is made from an eco-friendly wool that uses no dye and little processing. It is durable and biodegradable. Finally under your feet, you'll find carpets made from sisal, another sustainable crop.
By utilizing local farms for their materials and having all their facilities in close proximity they are able to reduce the amount emissions created by the supply chain. They carefully monitor their logistics to make sure the path their materials travel is as efficient as possible. They also use packaging that they recycle many times over.
Lotus has taken several steps to make sure their vehicle performs as efficiently as possible. First they have followed the "Performance through light weight" philosophy. Reducing the vehicles overall weight improves the handling and braking performance, and reduces the energy required to accelerate the car. They utilize lightweight wheels that reduce the unsprung mass and contribute a weight saving of approximately 15.8 kg (34.8 lbs) over the already light Elise wheels. They also use an exceptionally lightweight stereo and speaker system from Alpine saving 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs). Along with a host of other small weight reductions they are able to reduce the vehicles overall weight another 32 kg (70.5 lbs) less than the already super light standard Elise S.
Like the new Prius the Eco Elise sports solar panels on its roof. These solar panels supplement the power needed by the electrical systems, saving energy that would otherwise be drained from the engine and impact fuel economy.
Finally the Eco Elise utilizes the instrument panel to assist the driver in driving more efficiently. Lotus cars are known for their red light shifting prompts that help the driver time their shifting to maximize speed and power. The Eco Elise employs a system of green light prompts that help the driver time their gear changes for maximum fuel efficiency.
In addition to all these efforts, Lotus is also working on a "Tri-fuel" engine that would run on gas, ethanol or methanol. This is still in concept and they haven't shared actual performance numbers, however, their lifecycle approach is intended to be feasible for mass production and hopefully be picked up by other car manufacturers. It's great to see a company approaching sustainability in ways that look beyond the tail pipe. The ideal would be car with killer fuel efficiency that takes this environmentally friendly manufacturing approach. Wouldn't it be great if the Fisker Karma, the Tesla Roadster or the Toyota Prius were made with hemp and water soluble paint?
The Eco Elise will be displayed in the Greener Driving Pavilion at the British International Motor Show from 23rd July until 3rd August, so if you're out that way stop in an check it out.