Each week, Big Ideas goes through three or four ideas on a topic. Tonight's episode (which airs at 9 pm PST on the Sundance Channel) is called "Paper or Plastic" and pretty much answers neither. At least, not your typical plastic materials. This is where the Model U comes in, in Idea 3: Recyclable Car.
Made with all kinds of plant-based materials, the Model U was intended to embody the spirit of the original Model T in a 21st century way (except that Ford actually sold the Model T). The fabric used on the seats, dash, steering wheel, headrests, door trim and armrests is an "eco-effective polyester." The canvas roof and carpet mats are a potential "biological nutrient" called polylactide. Then there's the corn in the tires and lots of soy foam in the seats. In the Big Idea show, we visit with Deborah Mielewski from Ford's plastics research department, whose team developed the environmentally conscious materials, Gerhard Schmidt, technical lead on the Model U (who says, "The Model U, first, is a dream. Clean, environmentally friendly, safe, and, for sure, fun to drive"), and David Wagoner, vehicle engineering at Ford, who was involved with the advanced green technologies. We also see, briefly, scientists testing new soy foam in the Ford lab.
The Model U is powered by a hydrogen ICE, but the show doesn't get into much more detail than to say its the same 2.3L I 4 engine as in the Ford Fusion, but it burns hydrogen and that it has a 300 mile range. And that's the Model U in like 5 minutes.
You can watch (for now) some clips of tonight's show here. Unfortunately, the Model U segment is not being streamed. But, just for you, we've got a clip of the car in action here. You can read more about the non-Model U segments of the show after the jump. There're quite interesting, just not car-related.
Thanks to Sundance for the screener DVDs.
[Source: Big Ideas for a Small Planet]
The other two segments get into cradle-to-cradle certification and biodegradable plastics. William McDonough's bit will likely make you rethink buying that next thing (whatever it might be) because of the way that product and its packaging will just sit and sit in a landfill for the foreseeable future. McDonough is co-founder of MBDC, a firm that is working on a cradle-to-cradle certification that will - hopefully - generate a lot of awareness about the impact our purchases have on the environment. His first major partner in this endeavor is the US Postal Service, where all those envelopes you can buy at post offices will be undergoing reformulation so that they're less resource-sucking. Anita Bizzotto, chief marketing officer for USPS explains that cradle-to-cradle certified products (flat rate envelopes, for example) will soon be available at every post office in the U.S. Can't complain that the USPS' outreach is limited now can you?
"Sustainability is the principle of meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising those of future generations," Mcdonough says.
Lastly, we visit Cereplast (actually, this is segment two, and the Model U comes last in the show, but who's keeping score, really?) which focuses on biodegradeable plastics. I'm very much in favor of the type of work Cereplast is doing: making eco-versions of disposable food containers. As the screen tells us during the show: "In the last 25 years, the amount of cups and plates thrown out in the U.S. has increased from 190,000 to 930,000 tons." (I'm guessing this is an annual figure). Now, who'd like another plate?