Old matter, new purpose in quest for net-zero car build

Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson |

RMIT students have shown ideas to recycle and reuse materials in partnership with EV maker Polestar.
RMIT students have shown ideas to recycle and reuse materials in partnership with EV maker Polestar.

Turning sawdust into concrete and reusing steel from old buildings are among the environmentally friendly ideas explored by university students in a project with an electric vehicle maker.

The organisations teamed up as part of Polestar’s goal to create a completely climate-neutral car by 2030, called Polestar 0, with no greenhouse gas emissions created in its production.

If successful, the vehicle would be the first of its kind and could help cut transport pollution, which currently represents 21 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions.

RMIT Architecture and Urban Design School lecturer Ian Nazareth said the university partnered with the Swedish automaker as its project involved finding new ways to reuse, recycle and repurpose substances such as plastic, metals and waste.

“They’re looking at the process of not just delivering electric vehicles but also looking at circular economies and processes for materials,” he said.

“There’s a very large percentage of global emissions that come from building and from automobiles so we have a shared interest in trying to understand how we can disentangle ourselves from established carbon economies.”

Students focused on an older building tapped for redevelopment, 60 Collins Street in Melbourne, and identified ways to repurpose materials from it to give it new life and avoid unnecessary mining.

“There were projects that look at how we could reuse sawdust, for example, and how we could integrate that into concrete mix and use it in a different way,” he said.

“There was another looking at how we could reuse steel and iron but reconstituting it at a fundamental level and thinking about how it could repair itself.”

The results were displayed in a Fitzroy gallery, but Polestar Australia marketing head Jonathan Williams said the innovations could help inform work on the company’s net-zero plans.

“We believe in collaboration with other industries to find solutions that may not yet be available,” he said.

“Working with the students at RMIT University to discover new material innovations is an exciting initiative for us locally (and) we can’t wait to see how some of the ideas take shape.”

Research compiled by the Electric Vehicle Council showed the manufacture of electric cars initially created more carbon emissions due to their batteries, though the vehicles produced almost half the emissions of a petrol car over its lifespan.

Polestar is currently researching materials including cobalt, mica and lithium and ways to reduce their environmental impact.