The new Volvo EX30 electric vehicle features parts made with sustainable bio-based material from the Swiss firm Bcomp (image courtesy of Volvo Cars).

The Electric Vehicle Of The Future Will Also Be More Sustainable

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An electric vehicle can beat a conventional car on tailpipe emissions any day of the week, but at heart it remains a large machine with lots of parts and trim, each with their own supply chain impacts. Now legacy automakers and startups are alike are scouting around for opportunities to reduce those impacts, too. CleanTechnica has been keeping an eye out for bio-based solutions, and a good example is the new Volvo EX30.

What We Like About This Electric Vehicle

CleanTechnica reporter Kyle Field found much to like last June when he reviewed Volvo’s latest entry into the electric vehicle field. Assessing the Volvo EX30 five-seater SUV, the car’s “jaw dropping” price of $34,950 in the US topped Fields’s checklist of what to like.

The build-your-own car starts with a 295-mile city-driving range (or 214 miles highway/combined) for the basic model, along with the opportunity to build additional range (up to 411 city, 298 miles highway/combined). Other elements of performance and safety also impressed.

Another thing that caught Fields’s attention was the use of more sustainable materials. “About 25% of all of the aluminum in the EX30 is recycled, and 17% of all steel and plastics used in the EX30 are recycled,” he noted.

The Swiss startup Bcomp can add bio-based materials to the EX30 list, along with a ripple benefit on the electric vehicle as a whole. Bcomp bills itself as a “sustainable lightweighting company,” meaning that its bio-based parts can help reduce the load on battery range and help extend the lifespan of the tires compared to conventional parts.

The company originally began exploring flax-based material as a reinforcement for high performance skis, and it has ventured far afield since then.

Biobased Parts For The Electric Vehicle Of The Future

Bcomp’s ampliTex™ flax-based composite was indeed featured in the 2023 launch of the Volvo EX30. The company describes ampliTex as a “technical reinforcement fabric made from renewable flax fibres grown in Europe.” The material provides for lower weight and “unique design opportunities,” along with a more sustainable profile.

Along with the company’s powerRibs™ reinforcement grid, the bio-based materials can replace carbon fiber, glass, or plastic. For the EX30, AmpliTex was used only in the dashboard and door trim as an option.

That may seem like a baby step, and it is, but that’s how these things tend to go when trying to meet, or beat, petrochemical materials on performance for mass market vehicles.

Ford, for example, is very proud of a five-gram wire harness clip made from abandoned fishing nets hauled out of the ocean, which it introduced in 2021.

Bcomp and Volvo Cars also checked out Bcomp’s composites for use in exterior bumpers and sills back in 2021, but for now it looks like only the interior parts made the cut.

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Sustainable Bio-Based Parts For Motorsports

On the other hand, motorsports have been a little more daring.

“While Bcomp’s natural fibre composites have been well-proven in demanding motorsport applications like Formula 1, Formula E, and SuperFormula, this [the EX30] is the first production vehicle to reach consumers,” Bcomp notes.

Back in 2021, for example, Bcomp’s composites were featured in the first season of the Extreme E off-road electric vehicle showcase. The motorsports automaker Spark Racing Technology deployed the company’s ampliTex material in place of carbon fiber, along with the company’s powerRibs reinforcement grid, for all nine of the electric SUVs in the competition.

Bcomp states that its composites “enable sustainable bodyworks with the same stiffness and weight as carbon fibre while improving safety and damping.” The company claims an 85% lifecycle carbon dioxide savings alongside “ductile breaking behaviour,” which reduces the risk of injury from shattered parts in the event of a crash.

“Additionally, the 250% better damping properties improve driver comfort by lowering vibrations and noise levels, reducing fatigue over the course of a race,” Bcomp adds.

More Sustainable Car Parts Are Just Around The Corner

Bcomp’s materials have also been featured in more than a dozen other racing series, and in the BMW M4 GT4 racing car. Other niche applications for the materials include luxury yachts and the new satellite panels used by the the European Space Agency, so it appears that the electric vehicle mass market won’t have to wait much longer for flax to show up in additional car parts.

In the latest news from Bcomp, the company announced that it has just closed on a $40 million round of Series C funding, aimed at scaling up and introducing its composites far beyond the electric vehicle field. Bcomp lists “rail, buses, aviation, aerospace and consumer goods” as the target markets, in addition to its production-level work with Polestar as well as Volvo.

The leading Swiss institutional investor EGS Beteiligungen AG spearheaded the Series C round. Bcomp also lists Verve Ventures, Zürcher Kantonalbank, and RKKVC as additional new investors, alongside returning participants from Series A and B including Generali and Airbus Ventures. Strategic investment funding from BMW i Ventures, Porsche Ventures and Volvo Cars Tech Fund rounded out the show.

Based on the company’s figures for automobile interiors, the sustainability savings for larger vehicles could be substantial. Bcomp estimates that its composites can reduce the plastic content of auto interiors by up to 70% compared to conventional materials. “The use of these natural, high-performance materials can also reduce the quantity of CO2 emitted from cradle to gate by up to 60% and parts can be recycled and repurposed to serve a second life in another set of components,” Bcomp also notes.

Pitching In For The Sustainable Electric Vehicle Of The Future

As for accelerating the move into more sustainable materials, electric vehicle fans can do their parts by nudging their favorite automakers to look beyond tailpipe emissions and pay more attention to lifecycle emissions all along the supply chain.

Consumer sentiment can have a powerful impact, as Bcomp CEO and Co-Founder Christian Fischer emphasized in a press statement.

“Not only are we facing more stringent regulations for carbon outputs, but consumers and manufacturers everywhere understand that we need to decarbonise to preserve our global environment,” Fischer said.

“The quality and status of investors in our Series C clearly demonstrate their belief that our bio-based composites offer a viable path towards carbon neutrality without compromising on the rigorous performance requirements of our customers for their demanding applications,” he added.

With that in mind, electric vehicle tires are one area of particular interest. Aside from the carbon footprint of tire manufacturing, wear and tear on the road releases microparticles of material (check out CleanTechnica’s Jennifer Sensiba for more details about the the tire wear issue issue as it relates to electric vehicles).

Electric or not, tire makers are looking for solutions, including rubber made from dandelion sap. If you’ve heard of any other interesting or unusual alternative materials, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Image: The new Volvo EX30 electric vehicle features parts made with sustainable bio-based material from the Swiss firm Bcomp (courtesy of Volvo Cars).

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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