Complied By Lisa Hofmann DaimlerChrysler's efforts to make friends with Mother Earth have resulted in the first natural fiber-reinforced exterior vehicle component to enter series production. The company will equip the new Mercedes-Benz Travego with the natural fiber-reinforced engine and transmission cover. Prior to this innovation, the use of flax, sisal, cotton, and hemp was limited to DaimlerChrysler's vehicle interiors -- upholstery, door paneling, and the rear panel shelf. DaimlerChrysler's continual work on developing applications for natural fibers and environmentally friendly processes and products resulted in the new application. The new use of fiber is more efficient in many respects, according to Heinrich Flegel, director of production technology at the DaimlerChrysler Research Center. Use of the fibers reduces weight by 10%, and energy required for production is decreased by 80%, says Flegel. He also notes that the cost of the component is 5% lower than the fiberglass-reinforced component. DaimlerChrysler is exploring future uses of natural fibers, which Flegel says have several benefits. According to him, there is no net carbon dioxide release, and production of natural materials uses only one-fifth the energy of fiberglass production. DaimlerChrysler partly relies on South American sources of natural fibers. In Belem, Brazil, the population receives a stable income for the fibers, and residents of the Amazon island of Marajo supply coconut fiber headrests to Mercedes-Benz do Brasil.