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Engineering
  

Car Parts Made Out Of Coconuts?

WACO, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- There are 125 million cars are on the road today. That's billions of pounds of steel and glass on our roadways. But now, some parts of your car could be created by fruit.

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Songs are sung about them. Food created with them. Girls even wear them. Now part of your car may be made with them.

"We've got lots of coconuts and nothing to do with them," Walter Bradley, Ph.D., a material scientist at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, told Ivanhoe.

It's that thought that started material scientists and mechanical engineers at Baylor University thinking of ways to help 11 million poor coconut farmers near the equator.

"Coconut farmers make about $500 a year and grow about 5,000 coconuts, each typically about 10 cents apiece," Dr. Bradley explained.

Right now, all the money is made by selling the coconut oil. The shell and husks are left behind.

"Instead of focusing on the oil, we're focusing on everything they don't use," Stan Greer, Ph.D., a research and development engineer at Whole Tree in Waco, Texas, said.

Particularly, the fibers inside the coconuts husk are being used to create car parts, including trunk liners, car ceilings, dashboards, door panels and floorboards.

"This is polyester and this is polypropylene, and traditionally for automotive parts, you can combine these to form felt-like material," Ryan Vano, a mechanical engineering at Baylor University, said.

"We're replacing polyester fiber so we mix our milled coconut fiber with recycled polypropylene and we make it into this non-woven fabric composite," Dr. Greer said.

After heating the fibers, a moldable, durable liner is made.

"We've got one side with a finishing cloth for a trunk liner," Dr. Greer explained.

It's resistant to fire, fungus and doesn't smell, but the biggest benefit: cost.

"The price for virgin polyester is 60 cents a pound," Dr. Greer said. "Recycled is 47 cents, but coconut fiber delivered to us is 40 cents a pound."

Basically, tripling a farmer's income in one year, and creating more jobs in the process.

"There's no way we can grow them here, but we can do processing here in the states to help our economy as well," Elisa Guzman Teipel, a graduate student at Baylor University, said.

Dr. Bradley says that just by transitioning to coconut trunk liners, we could save two million barrels of oil per year.

"We're not trying to get people to buy this product because it will help the poor coconut farmers," Dr. Bradley said. "We want them to buy it because it's green, it's sustainable, it's environmentally friendly and it will be a big benefit to American consumers."

They're putting waste to work for everybody.

Car parts are just the beginning. The scientists at Baylor along with Whole Tree, a company developed by grad students there, are also planning to make building materials such as insulation and roofs.

The Materials Research Society and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Walter L. Bradley, PhD, PE
Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Baylor University
Waco, TX 76798
Walter_Bradley@baylor.edu

Materials Research Society
Materials Research Society
(724) 779-3003
http://www.mrs.org

webmaster@mrs.org

American Society of Mechanical Engineers
(800) 843-2763 or (973) 882-1170
http://www.asme.org

infocentral@asme.org


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