Not only is innovation taking place within electric vehicles, but people are also now turning to look at what materials their cars are made of and the carbon footprint they may have.  While there is a new movement to create a sustainable industry by reducing CO2 emissions, changes are also taking place in the materials that make up EVs. 

The goal is to reduce the carbon footprint and in turn, the impact of the environment by using eco-friendly materials for the interior and exterior of cars. While electrifying automobiles is one way to help decarbonise the industry, more companies must reduce material emissions.  

Consulting firm Mckinsey has estimated that 60% of automotive-industry emissions by 2040 will come from materials used in production. We must take a step back from traditional materials that are hard to recycle.   

Here are some of the ways auto companies are making their vehicles more sustainable: 


Recycled Materials  

Making a strong commitment to using sustainable materials does not just mean replacing one material with another, it is about understanding where the materials are from and knowing what has less of a carbon footprint. Many leather alternatives are made of plastic which is just as environmentally harmful as the materials many are trying to eradicate. Through recycling materials, like polyethylene terephthalate bottles or plastic caps, we can make dashboards, foam seats and air bags.  

Examples of companies that have already delved into this pool are Mercedes-Benz and BMW. Mercedes-Benz recently revealed its all-electric concept car of which the interior was filled with sustainable light-weight materials. The door handles comprised of bio-steel fiber and the seats were made of artificial leather made from mushroom and cactuses. Mercedes has said that the carbon footprint of artificial leather is reduced by half compared to authentic leather.  

BMW is also another automaker who has committed itself to using eco-friendly materials. The company has revealed the pure electric concept model ‘BMW I Vision Circular’. This vehicle is to be made using only 100% recyclable materials. The Circular is comprised of recyclable materials such as steel, plastic, rubber, and glass. All these materials can be recycled even after the car is no longer used.  

Additionally, each car part was assembled without using adhesives, and some parts were manufactured using a 3D printing process to minimise parts being discarded during the manufacturing stage. The company has set big goals to significantly reduce carbon emissions by using more recycled plastics for both interior and exterior of cars. 


Vegan Materials  

Shopping for cars that have a leather alternative can be frustrating for buyers. Replacing leather with Vegan alternatives is an important transition that many manufacturers are ready to make. Throughout the years many companies have been using faux or synthetic leather, however, automotive companies need to take the next step by offering greener options.  

The sourcing of this material is a huge advantage for car makers. Vegan leather can be made from all sorts of natural resources such as mushrooms and even pineapple waste! Many inexpensive cars can usually come with standard cloth seating and vegan steering wheels; however, higher end brands usually do end up with leather within their vehicles.  

Despite this, many carmakers have made extreme commitments to ensuring their car materials are sustainable. Swedish automaker Volvo has vowed to make its EV range vegan-friendly by 2030 and BMW is partnering with Desserto, a company which makes a cactus-based biomaterial, which can replace leather in seats and panels. 


What is the future for sustainable materials? 

Automakers are now under more pressure than ever to use eco-friendly materials within their vehicles as growing concerns for the planet, climate change and unpredictable fuel shortages push more people towards EVs. Still, according to Autovista, around a third of the 30,000 parts used in new vehicles are made from plastic.  

The future for sustainable materials will continue to grow as many companies are going outside the box in their search for new materials, looking to forest material, the sea and even food! It is fair to say we will not see the end of this new generation of EVs, and many more carmakers will need to jump on the bandwagon to steer away from environmentally harmful materials.  

The UN environmental programme reported that 300 million tonnes of plastic are in global circulation each year, which would make recyclable plastics the obvious choice for car manufacturers due to their rich availability.  

The rise of sustainability is causing many consumers to be suspicious of greenwashing claims which makes it hard for many to work of who is in fact concerned about environmental impact. More people are drawn to eco-friendly brands and therefore, car designers will need to be conscious of these changes. However, will this be a luxury many cannot afford? Luxury brands will be able to aid the future of premium materials being used as they will be able to invest in research to experiment with new materials.  

For now, being able to buy an EV that is eco-friendly inside and out may be left to luxury, however, as more brands take on the net-zero challenge, we may see more affordable vehicles on the road with sustainable materials throughout.