Escalating oil costs speed up the race to use new ‘greener’ recyclable materials including old U.S. paper currency along with soybeans, denim and plastic bottles.
Wayne Gerdes - CleanMPG
- April 20, 2012
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid – Not only will it arrive with a class leading 47/44 mpgUS city/highway rating, it will be built using a number of unique and sustainable materials.
From a Ford release the other day, rising oil prices have Ford pushing harder than ever to reduce petroleum dependence and costs by using more sustainable materials to make automobile parts.
Other alternatives materials include cellulose from trees, Indian grass, sugar cane, dandelions, corn and coconuts.
In the early 2000s, when Ford started heavily researching sustainable materials, petroleum was readily available and relatively cheap; a barrel of oil was $16.65. Earlier this year, a barrel hit a high of $109.77.
An example, 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of retired paper currency are shredded daily – more than 3.6 million pounds annually. The shredded money is either compressed into bricks and landfilled, or burned.
New sustainable materials that can meet Ford’s stringent requirements and testing could join a growing list of alternatives to petroleum-based materials currently being employed.
Ford’s use of soybean-based cushions in all of its North American vehicles including the all-new Fusion saves approximately 5 million pounds of petroleum annually. The all-new Escape has door bolsters partially made of kenaf – a tropical plant in the cotton family – offsetting the use of 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin per year in North America.
Ford is concentrating its efforts on increasing the use of recycled non-metal and bio-based materials to reduce its dependence on petroleum products with the following examples cited:
- The new Fusion contains the equivalent of slightly more than two pairs of average-sized American blue jeans as sound-dampening material to help eliminate unwanted road, wind and powertrain noise.
- Ten pounds of scrap cotton from blue jeans, T-shirts, sweaters and other items go in to the Escape’s dashboard.
- The equivalent of 25 recycled 20-ounce plastic bottles helps make the Escape’s carpet.
- Focus Electric uses a wood-fiber-based material in its doors and recycled plastic bottles in its seat fabric.
- Flex has wheat straw in its plastic bins.
- Taurus SHO uses a micro denier suede made from 100 percent recycled yarns.
As the business case for sustainable materials strengthens, interest is growing in the potential of some unexpected sources including the shredded paper money and coconut fibers. Ideas once considered pie-in-the-sky now merit serious consideration.
John Viera, Ford’s Global Director of Sustainability and Vehicle Environmental Matters:
“As petroleum prices continue to rise, traditional, less sustainable materials become more expensive. The potential to reuse the country’s paper currency once it has been taken out of circulation is a great example of the kind of research we are doing at Ford.
Dr. Debbie Mielewski, Technical Leader of Ford’s Materials Research and Innovation Team:
“We have been working with an ever-increasing list of collaborators – chemical companies, universities, suppliers and others – to maximize efforts and develop as many robust, sustainable materials as possible for the 300 pounds of plastic on an average vehicle!
Shredded money, for example, is being considered for interior trays and bins, added Mielewski.
There is no guarantee any or all of these sustainable materials will end up in Ford cars and trucks but Mielewski is excited about how much more attention and support her team – and the whole subject of sustainable materials – is receiving.
Soybeans are considered to be the root of Ford’s effort to use more sustainable materials.
According to Ford, 75% of Ford’s North American vehicles feature bio-foam in the head restraints, including the Ford F-150, Taurus, Explorer and Fusion. All Ford Motor Company vehicles built in North America use bio-foam content in the seat cushions and backs.
The extended use of soy foam results from research between Ford and Lear; Ford first used sustainable soybean oil-derived seating foam on the 2008 Mustang. The collaboration also generated the recent complete conversion of all Lear North American Ford seating cushion foam to Lear SoyFoam.
SoyFoam is up to 24 percent more renewable than petroleum-based foam. The biomaterial has helped Ford reduce its annual petroleum oil usage by more than 3 million pounds. The use of SoyFoam also has helped Ford reduce its CO2 emissions by more than 15 million pounds. SoyFoam also can provide a 67 percent reduction in volatile organic compound emissions.
Ford History With Sustainable Plants
George Washington Carver and Henry Ford shared a vision of a future in which agricultural products would be put to new uses to create products and industries.
Though worlds apart, George Washington Carver and Henry Ford shared a vision of a future in which agricultural products would be put to new uses to create products and industries.
One idea both men worked on more than 60 years ago -- biofuels -- is again in vogue as America seeks to reduce its dependence on foreign oil.
Carver, born a slave in Missouri during the Civil War, had become a world-famous botanist by the 1930s, famed for his research into the many uses of peanuts, soybeans and other plants.
Over the years, Carver promoted the idea that such plants could be turned into plastics, paint, fuel and other products.
At Tuskegee, Carver had promoted the use of crop rotation -- planting such nitrogen-rich crops as peanuts, sweet potatoes and soybeans -- to improve farmland depleted by years of raising cotton. In so doing, he also worked on hundreds of new uses for such crops.
Though he's often credited with inventing hundreds of uses for the peanut alone, Carver left few formulas or detailed records, making such claims by admirers hard to verify.
By the late 1930s, Carver and Ford were corresponding on a variety of subjects, including new industrial uses for soybeans and other plants. Ford had also met with Carver in Dearborn and at Ford's estate in Georgia and visited him at Tuskegee.
At first glance, they must have seemed like a strange mix -- the billionaire industrialist from the North and the modest scientist and naturalist from the South. But Ford regarded Carver as a contemporary. Both men had been born on farms during the Civil War and both had sought, in their own ways, to improve the lot of the common man.
After Thomas Edison died, the automaker even called Carver "the greatest of all my inspiring friends." To honor him, Ford also had a replica of Carver's log cabin birthplace built amid the other historic buildings at Greenfield Village in Dearborn. In addition, Ford helped outfit a laboratory for Carver and had an elevator installed in a Tuskegee dormitory so the botanist could get to his lab more easily in his later years.
Both Carver and Ford believed that petroleum supplies would one day become limited. And both promoted the alternative uses of soybeans, which Ford used to make car parts in the 1930s.
This interest culminated in 1942, when Ford showcased a car with a plastic body made from soybeans. Attached to a tubular frame, the body weighed 30 percent less than a steel car and was much more flexible and durable. The experimental car was also equipped to run on ethanol rather than gasoline but such a novel idea failed to catch on.
Back to the grindstone
Ford researchers challenged themselves to develop soybean-based foams that met every performance and durability requirement. They chose to use the material in seat cushions because they account for two-thirds of the foam (or about 25 pounds) used in a single vehicle.
Early versions of the soybean cushion were fraught with problems – from strong odor to falling short of Ford’s stringent quality standards. Labs full of the failed attempts still exist on Ford’s Dearborn campus.
“After five years, we were finally able to meet every single requirement – compression, durability, everything.”
However, in the early 2000s the fact remained: Petroleum and plastic were inexpensive, and it was just too costly to change the way things had been done for about 100 years. The lack of urgency at the time became an advantage as the Ford scientists figured out how these sustainable materials will fit into current and future Ford vehicles which is great news for all.