Sustainability

Trash to treasure: GM vehicles are made from products originally destined for a landfill

General Motors is putting post-consumer waste to good use.

Photo by Getty Images/Koron

When you think of recycling, you inevitably think of the beer can or bottle that you've thrown in the bin in your garage, or the newspaper or magazine that sits in a stack waiting to be added to that bin on garbage day. There usually isn't much thought given to what happens to the materials once the garbage truck pulls away from your curbside.

Even though you might not be putting much thought into it, others are. This includes finding new and innovative approaches to using the recycled materials in products that are going to market.

General Motors Spring Hill Plant GM's Spring Hill plant will be run on solar power by 2022. Photo courtesy of General Motors

General Motors, who keeps sustainable practices in focus as part of an ongoing company-wide initiative, is utilizing recycled materials in their vehicles. This in and of itself isn't particularly innovative. Half a decade ago, the use or soy in the seats and tomato skins in the trunk was a common talking point for Ford during vehicle launches.

GM has taken steps over the years to reduce waste. At their Bowling Green assembly plant, the paint-shop system is using limestone to capture overspray, a practice that eliminates more than 400 tons per year of paint sludge waste. The company's design team donates scraps of leather, vinyl, and synthetic suede to the College for Creative Studies in Detroit so that they may be used by fashion students. Corvette's leather leftovers go to Pingree, a Detroit business that employs veterans with meaningful work, where workers hand craft the leather into custom Corvette-branded accessories.

The GM Global Design Center in Warren, Michigan has its design team collect and clean clay that is left over from creating models, using metal detecting wands to remove any metal pins. In just one hour, six team members can completely strip one midsize vehicle model of salvageable clay. This clay recycling saved Mother Earth some strain and GM's pocket book about $1 million over a three-year period.

General Motors recycled car breakdown Photo courtesy of General Motors

GM is part of the Materials Marketplace, an initiative of the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development, that works to identify ways to reuse or exchange undervalued materials through an online database and establish circular supply chains. This is designed to lengthen product life cycles and lower the environmental impact of many stages of the manufacturing and design process.

The automaker is also putting recycled materials into its vehicles. Post-consumer nylon fiber has been used for window support brackets resulting in 3 million pounds of plastic being recycled. Recycled PC/PBT plastic has been made into license plate brackets while PC/ABS plastic has been crafted into radio brackets resulting in 375,000 pounds of plastic diverted from landfills.

According to Beverage Marketing Corp., a single-serve PET bottle weighs approximately 9.25 grams down 52 percent from the early 2000s. GM has recycled 100 million water bottles and used them to make wheelhouse liners. Other uses of recycled materials include 200,000 pounds of plastic diverted from landfills to make cowl vent grills, 5,000 tires taken out of the refuse pile to be used to make ultra capacitor barrier shields.

General Motors Spring Hill Assembly Plant Photo courtesy of General Motors

GM continues to work on sustainability with its plants and suppliers. It has recently won awards for its initiatives and is set to hit another milestone in 2022 when the Spring Hill plant will switch over to solely solar power.

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The Nissan Re-Leaf is designed to help in disaster zones.

Photo courtesy of Nissan

When you need disaster relief, this Nissan Leaf is there for you, at least in theory. The Nissan Re-Leaf, an electric emergency response vehicle concept vehicle, takes the idea of portable electricity to a new level.

The Re-Leaf isn't just all-show. It's a working prototype that is designed to serve as a mobile power supply that can be used following natural disasters or extreme weather events. The Leaf was the world's first mass-market electric vehicle when it debuted a decade ago.

Natural disasters are the biggest cause of power outages. A 2019 World Bank report found natural shocks and climate change caused 37 percent of outages in Europe between 2000 and 2017, and 44 percent of outages in the US over the same period.

Nissan Re-Leaf

Photo courtesy of Nissan

Usually, when a disaster hits, the time for electricity supply to be restored is typically 24-48 hours if the damage is not too extensive. During that time, electric vehicles can provide mobile emergency power.

The Re-Leaf has a few modifications to make it disaster-ready. That starts at the exterior of the vehicle where weatherproof plug sockets mounted directly to the exterior enable 110- to 230-volt devices to be powered by the car's lithium-ion battery.

It is designed to drive into disaster zones and provide a mobile power supply. The integrated energy management system can run medical, communications, lighting and other life-supporting equipment.

The cars can also act as mobile storage batteries to supply homes with electricity during non-emergency situations by using the LEAF's bi-directional charging ability, a standard feature of the model since its introduction in 2010. This means the LEAF can not only 'pull' power to recharge the high-capacity battery, but also 'push' it back to the grid through V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) technology, or directly to electronic devices through V2X (Vehicle-to-everything).

Acting as a portable power station, the latest generation Nissan LEAF e+ with a fully charged 62 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery can provide enough electricity to power the average UK household for around six days.

This concept may look futuristic but the future is already here. Nissan has used the Leaf to provide emergency power and transportation following natural disasters since 2011.

The Re-Leaf sports an amber color scheme, a nod to the ancient Greek word for amber – electron – the origin of the word 'electricity'. There's a roof-mounted LED light bar that flashes amber lights as well. Nissan has raised the car by 70 mm and given it a wider track and all-terrain tires on 17-inch wheels.

Inside, the rear seats have been removed and the floor levelled to provide storage for essential equipment. A custom bulk-head cage also separates the front seats from the cargo area.

A bespoke pull-out desk extends from the cargo area with a 32-inch LED screen and dedicated power supply creating an operational hub to run communications from and manage the recovery process.

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Acura is revealing its next-gen MDX slowly, first with this, the MDX Prototype.

Photo courtesy of Acura

The MDX is the best-selling Acura in the lineup. It's also America's best-selling luxury three-row SUV. But that's not good enough.

Acura is redesigning the MDX and as it prepares to enter a fourth generation, a prototype of the new SUV will be shown on October 14. This looks to follow the same pattern as the TLX launch, which saw a prototype revealed about six months before the true model debut, just after the PMC Edition was put on sale.

Acura says that the next-gen MDX will usher in " new levels of Acura design, performance, technology and craftsmanship, assuming the mantle as the brand's new flagship model". And that's a good thing. The brand revolution that started with the RDX and continued with the TLX looks to go even further in a bid to re-establish Acura on its premium model throne.

The ofirst MDX was the industry's first three-row SUV based on a unibody platform, a design that has since gone mainstream as crossovers and lifestyle SUVs overrun a vehicle type that started as rugged off-roaders and family trucksters. Since it's debut, the MDX has garnered praise from buyers and critics alike including winning the 2001 North American Truck of the Year and 2001 Motor Trend SUV of the Year awards.

Over the past two decades, cumulative sales have surpassed 1 million units, securing MDX's place as the best-selling Acura model, accounting for roughly one-third of the brand's U.S. sales since its launch.

"We're accelerating Acura's commitment to Precision Crafted Performance and this fourth-generation MDX is the most ambitious and consequential redesign of an Acura core model in our history," said Jon Ikeda, vice president and Acura brand officer. "This all-new MDX will take us into new territory in terms of performance, prestige and emotional appeal."

The teaser image (above) and video (below) that were released today highlight the sharply sculpted beltline running the perimeter of the wider, lower and longer MDX, connecting the Jewel Eye LED headlights at the front to the Chicane LED taillights in the rear.

The MDX Prototype pulls heavily from the RDX and TLX with design nods to each. Still, it's unmistakably a three-row SUV. Though we don't know for sure what's under the hood, expect the MDX to have more a dynamic driving style when it debuts, following in the vein of the RDX and TLX redesigns.

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