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Conceptual diagram of carbon neutrality of Toyota Ecological Plastic. Click to enlarge.

Toyota Motor (TMC) plans to increase use of plant-derived, carbon-neutral plastics in more vehicle models, starting with a new hybrid vehicle next year. The TMC newly developed plastics, collectively known as “Ecological Plastic”, are to be used in scuff plates, headliners, seat cushions and other interior vehicle parts.

Within 2009, TMC aims for Ecological Plastic to account for approximately 60% of the interior components in vehicles that feature it.

There are basically two types of Ecological Plastic: that produced completely from plant-derived materials and that produced from a combination of plant- and petroleum-derived materials.

Because plants play a role in either type, Ecological Plastic emits less CO2 during a product’s lifecycle (from manufacture to disposal) than plastic made solely from petroleum; it also helps reduce petroleum use.

Ecological Plastic adequately meets the heat-resistance and shock-resistance demands of vehicle interiors through the use of various compounding technologies, such as those allowing molecular-level bonding and homogeneous mixing of plant-derived and petroleum-derived raw materials.

In 2003, TMC became the first automaker to use 100% plant-based plastics in production-vehicle interior parts when it launched the Japanese-market “Raum” in May 2003, featuring Ecological Plastic that used polylactic acid and other all-plant-based materials. TMC intends to pursue research and development and practical application that result in expanded use of Ecological Plastic in vehicle parts.

Plastics derived from polylactic acid represent a major component of Toyota’s Ecological Plastics strategy. The manufacturing process starts by taking the starch of feedstocks such as sweet potatoes and breaking it down with enzymes to turn it into sugar, which is then fermented to produce lactic acid. This is then polymerized to form polylactic acid, and a process of refinement and molding is used to produce a range of plastic products.

In 2003, Toyota and Cargill Dow were the major companies using polylactic acid; since then, others, such as Toray (earlier post) have embraced that pathway.

Ecological Plastic Applications and Materials Used
Interior vehicle parts using Ecological Plastic Where used Combined raw materials
Plant-derived Petroleum-derived
Scuff plates, cowl side trim,
floor finish plate, toolbox
Throughout Polylactic acid Polypropylene
Headliner, sun visors, pillar covers Covering
(fibrous portion)
Plant-derived polyester Polyethylene
Trunk liner Covering
(fibrous portion)
Polylactic acid Polyethylene
Door trim Base material Kenaf fiber and Polylactic acid (Not used)
Seat cushion Foam portion Polyol derived from castor oil Polyol, isocyanate
(cross-linking agent)


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