The Japanese motor manufacturer continues to do its bit for the environment, with a new biodegradable product made from sweet potatoes being used in production models.

The Japanese motor manufacturer continues to do its bit for the environment, with a new biodegradable product made from sweet potatoes being used in production models.

Toyotas on sale in Japan are equipped with a new product called EcoPlastic, a biodegradable material made from sweet potatoes used in the production of floormats. The manufacturer has already experimented with various materials in its ES3 concept car. The concept was first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2001 and created to showcase the development of materials compatible with a range of recycling methods.

The bioplastics are derived from extracting starch from the potatoes and breaking it down to produce sugar. This is then fermented into lactic acid and then polymerised, refined and moulded into shape.

With sweet potatoes, the process is less polluting than extracting polymers from oil, and also makes use of raw materials from a sustainable source. Toyota has been producing sweet potatoes in Indonesia since 2001 and aims to increase its crop production to 20 million tonnes.

The bioplastics can eventually be used for in automotive manufacturing for dashboards and bodypanels. They are also suitable for plastic sheeting, refuse bags and various non-automotive uses.

The manufacturer is also trying to sell the benefits of a centrally mounted speedometer to its Japanese clients.

More than half of the Toyota vehicles sold in Japan have gauges mounted on the centre of the instrument panel. The company argues that having the gauges in a high, central location means they are easier to use, though this is just one of a number of changes introduced to incorporate universal design principles.

Several suppliers have promoted centrally-mounted displays as this alleviates having to redesign the instrument panels for right- and left-hand drive markets.