mushroom power up

Video Games have long been using mushrooms as a source for power, energy and advancement.

In the future, mushrooms may be as common in cars as they are on pizza.

Believe it or not, scientists who are trying to find more sustainable ways to build car parts believe the answers may be found in things such as mushroom roots.

The newest episode of the PBS series “Nova,” which aired on Wednesday 2/2, focuses on the new discoveries that scientists such as Deborah Mielewski, the technical leader of plastics research at Ford Motor Co., are working on to reduce the carbon tire track that autos leave on the environment…


For instance, Mielewski says Ford has been working to find a way to reduce the use of petroleum plastics since 2000, and the work is finally paying off big.

“Green plastics used to be unpopular,” Mielewski admitted. “We were used to getting the first meeting with people, but we’d never get invited back. People don’t like to move to new materials.”

However, the cost of petroleum rose at the same time as interest in protecting the environment, and Ford decided to jump on the green trend with some success.

Currently, as much as 10 percent of car parts that are typically made from petroleum plastics can now be made from soy-based polyurethane foams or “bioplastic.”

In fact, the 2011 Ford Fiesta uses bioplastic not only in soft foam seats but also for hard plastic surfaces like the dashboard.

New York Times science writer David Pogue, who is hosting the show, drove one of the Fiestas with foam made from soy beans and admits that he never would have noticed if Mielewski hadn’t spilled the beans herself.

“There is no way anyone can tell,” Pogue told AOL News. “They are identical in springiness and they are wrapped in vinyl like other car seats.”

Mielewski said that the current soy-based polyurethane foam used in the Fiesta had to match up with all the specs that the old foam did, but she sees a day when it will actually be better than, not equal to, the petroleum-based foam.

“We are formulating a soy-based foam that will be more like what is used in Tempur-Pedic mattresses and, thus, more comfortable,” she said.

Although the soy-based foam is considered green, Mielewski admits it still isn’t biodegradable.

“It will not biodegrade, but it takes less energy to make, and while the soy is growing it is taking in CO2 and that helps the environment.”

Green plastics are a growing part of the car market, and Mielewski says it may be possible to actually grow car parts.

She says scientists at Ford are experimenting by mixing some mushroom roots together with other plant matter, like wheat straw, and putting the mixture into a mold shaped like a car part.

The mushroom car parts are a ways off from being introduced into cars, but Pogue believes they will not only change how parts are manufactured, but also style as well.