Cornstarch, a low-on-nutrition cooking ingredient, is making its way to the next generation of vehicles. A specialised team at Tata Motors, the country’s largest automobile producer, is using cornstarch in the making of body parts for cars.
The company’s engineering and research facilities in Pune, Lucknow and Jamshedpur are working on integrating cornstarch in making car body parts to improve safety aspects. The non-flammable and non-toxic material, according to the company, is stretchable and better able to withstand the tremendous pressure occurring in the event of a crash. Tata Motors has already introduced the material in small cars for proto-testing and expects to be able to bring the idea to fruition by the end of 2012.
Plans to commercialise the product are under way. A survey and a pilot project to test the crash-worthiness of the material are part of the plans. After a successful introduction of the material in small cars for proto-testing, it will be readied for mass production with the help of Tata Chemicals.
A Tata Motors spokesperson, confirming the development, said: “At any given point of time, R&D is working on several ideas, for the future. This is one of them. We have a structured process of taking an idea through several gates to determine their feasibility. This idea, too, will go through that process. Hence, it is premature for us to be specific as of now.”
Modern-day car companies are increasingly looking at alternative sources of materials as against conventional items to improve overall performance of vehicles in the areas of safety, efficiency, driveability and power delivery, to name a few.
For instance, improved plastics, commonly known as engineering plastics, which hold the advantages of being light and economically efficient over metal versions, have already replaced metal in several vehicles. Body panels, floor panels, air-bag containers and air ducts are being made of such plastics.
Manufacturers are working on increasing the use of plastic, which currently represents about 50 per cent of the volume of materials used in the automotive industry but account for only 20 per cent of the weight.
US car brand Ford plans to use recycled blue jeans in cars. Cotton from about two pairs of average-sized American jeans will be used as absorption material and carpet backing in each car.
While the Tata Motors spokesperson did not state whether the cornstarch technology would be patented by it, experts said the technology had not been used by other car companies around the world.
Cornstarch can increase the crash resistance of cars and reduce the effects of an accident on occupants. It can also be used in many other products, such as making body armour, helmets (for soldiers, construction workers and others) and impact-proof gear.