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Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock

Felicity Bradstock is a freelance writer specialising in Energy and Finance. She has a Master’s in International Development from the University of Birmingham, UK.

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Cardboard Cars: The Race To Build The World’s Most Sustainable EV

  • Citroen recently introduced a new concept car which will be made from recycled cardboard and weigh just 1,000 kilograms.
  • The race to build the most sustainable and cost-effective electric vehicle is well underway, with companies using everything from recycled plastics to fossil fuel-free steel.
  • The design and build of the battery itself remain the most critical area for EV makers, with hydrogen fuel cell technology becoming increasingly competitive and the price of electricity climbing.

As Citroen introduces its new electric vehicle (EV) – made from recycled cardboard – it makes us wonder which other materials could be used in EV manufacturing to make cars both faster and greener. With automakers racing to create the most innovative, cost-effective EV designs, non-traditional components could help car manufacturers come out on top. 

In September, Citroen announced a new concept car to be made from recycled cardboard. The new EV – oli, is expected to weigh just 1,000 kilograms, or one metric tonne, and achieve a range of 248 miles. It’s can reach a speed of 68 mph - allowing it to maximize efficiency, with a 20 percent to 80 percent charge time of 23 minutes

Citroen says that oli’s parts can be reused or recycled. The four-seater car includes a “flat bonnet, roof and pick-up bed panels” that are “made from re-cycled honeycomb cardboard,” according to the French automaker. The materials are both lighter weight and require fewer resources to produce. Citroen insists that despite the unusual materials used, the car’s body is still heavy-duty and can resist someone standing on top of it. The oli also has mesh material car seats, removable Bluetooth speakers, a screen-free dashboard, and mobile charging appliances.

The aim when creating oli was to make a smaller, simpler EV, rather than a heavy, multi-gadget car. The firm’s CEO, Vincent Cobée, explained of the development: “Obviously, and I think we can all agree with it, the drive towards an electrification [of] individual transport is a very important element of a sustainable future.” He added, “I’m not even talking about regulation, I’m talking mostly about societal expectations… How we get there is a very important question.”

Cobée emphasized the importance of an affordable EV for the everyday driver. While many automakers have been moving towards a smarter, faster, longer-range EV, it has bumped up prices significantly, meaning that not everyone will be able to afford the switch to electric as countries introduce a ban on internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles. But oli offers an alternative. Although the concept car won’t be available for purchase, the materials and design will be used in commercial Citroen models. 

Recent reports suggest that rising electricity prices have meant EV charging has become almost as expensive as fueling a car with petrol in Europe. As consumer costs continue to rise, many are concerned about their ability to continue using a car, as EVs become the norm. Greater innovation in materials and EV components could help automakers to become more competitive and prevent consumers from giving up on a switch to electric. 

Car manufacturers are now looking to incorporate innovative – and particularly more eco-friendly – materials into their EV and car battery production. As sustainable consumerism becomes more normalized, and people hold companies accountable for their ESG practices, automakers are looking to provide more environmentally friendly options to consumers looking to invest in an EV. Options such as vegan leather interiors and bio-based upholstery are now being offered in many electric cars. 

In the move away from fossil fuels, it’s not just the engine that had to change as manufacturers must also consider the petrochemicals that go into making several of a car’s components. For example, some firms are producing cars using fossil-free steel. Volvo recently announced that it would be using green hydrogen to power its steel plant to decrease its CO2 emissions. Steel can comprise as much as 60 percent of a car’s structure, meaning that making the metal fossil fuel-free will help automakers decarbonize operations significantly. 

Other companies are exploring recycled plastics as an alternative for several car components. Dashboards and bumpers could both be produced using recycled plastic bottles. The EU is even discussing the possibility of making the use of recycled plastics in EVs mandatory. In addition to becoming more eco-friendly, using materials other than heavy leather, wood, and steel could make new EVs more streamlined and lighter in weight, as car manufacturers finally have the drive to look for innovative alternatives. 

And it’s not only the car’s design that can benefit from these types of materials but also electric batteries. As some automakers are advancing hydrogen fuel cells for cars, battery makers are looking to make their battery design more competitive. Hydrogen cars could offer a far longer range than battery EVs, as well as a significantly faster charging time – similar to that of an ICE car. Therefore, constantly innovating the electric battery design is key to remaining competitive. 

Traditional EV batteries use graphite anode materials that have a low energy storage capacity, meaning a shorter range. So, now, producers are looking to alternatives such as silicon – which has a storage capacity of around 10-times greater than graphite. However, the volume of silicon materials expands rapidly meaning that its storage capacity decreases over time. While there is promise yet for the material, it requires greater testing to respond to this challenge. 

While some car manufacturers are developing their EVs to be the fastest, most-advanced product possible, other automakers are looking to streamline their design to make them more sustainable and lower cost. However, the research and development of alternative EV materials will require a great deal of investment and time to see a real change in the market. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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