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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A project to design vehicles less harmful to the environment was announced here Tuesday.

 Saturn Corp., the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will look at the life of a car–from its creation to disposal– in an attempt to increase recyclability and other environmentally sound manufacturing practices and materials.

 The two-year, $750,000 project will be directed by UT’s Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies.

 UT President Joe Johnson said Saturn and UT researchers will develop an interactive computer program to assess the environmental impact of all phases of the life of a car.

 “UT is proud to be part of a partnership that could lead to better things for Saturn and Tennessee and help improve the automobile industry, environment and the nation’s economy,” Johnson said.

 Saturn president Donald Hudler said his company, which has its plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., has made great strides to increase recycling of automobile materials.

 “We intend to use the knowledge gained through our partnership with UT to maintain environmental leadership in the automotive industry,” Hudler said.

 UT-Knoxville Chancellor Bill Snyder said the UT-Saturn Life Cycle Design Project stems from a partnership established in 1985.

 “This is a great example of the potential which strong partnerships involving academia, industry and government have to create good in society,” Snyder said.

 Gary Davis, head of the clean products center, said it is difficult for vehicle designers to weigh the environmental impact of materials, designs, processes and other factors across the lifetime of a vehicle.

 “Some lightweight plastics make a car more fuel-efficient and environmentally sound during the usage phase of its life, but they are difficult to recycle,” Davis said. “Some metals are heavier and less fuel efficient but are more readily recycled.”

 UT researchers have collected data on the environmental impact of hundreds of materials used in the manufacture of vehicles. The researchers are using the information to build an interactive computer system that will allow automobile designers to more easily, accurately and effectively make environmental decisions.

 The system will be used at Saturn to determine the most environmentally sound automobile designs, Davis said.

“Automakers must be able to take the environment into account as part of the design process,” Davis said. “The life-cycle design tools and techniques we are developing will allow designers to make environmental impact of materials, alternative designs, and manufacturing technologies a criteria along with existing design factors such as cost, safety and performance.”

 EPA regional administrator John Hankinson said the project is part of EPA’s Environmental Technology and Common Sense Initiative, which seeks to make environmental considerations a greater part of the economic process.

 “The Common Sense Initiative signals a new approach to environmental management that is cleaner, cheaper, and smarter,” Hankinson said. “The UT-Saturn project presents an opportunity to maintain and develop competitive advantages while providing environmental benefits for Saturn and the auto industry and could be used as a template for other U.S. industries.”

 EPA is providing $450,000 for the effort, Saturn $200,000 and UT-Knoxville $100,000.

 Contact: Gary Davis (423-974-8979)