“We grow corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, asparagus, potatoes, spinach, kale, radishes, scallions, beets, turnips, pole beans, tomatoes – a little bit of everything,” she says, laughing. “I love fresh vegetables. We have 10 raised beds, and that’s not enough. Every year, I say, ‘I need more room!’’’
Lee’s green thumb shouldn’t surprise anyone. At Ford, Lee is part of a unique team that works to make products more sustainable through science and technology innovation. The team researches traditional, petroleum-based plastics and looks to Mother Nature to create alternate composites that are durable, lightweight and better for the environment.
These all-new composite recipes include more natural ingredients, such as soy oil, wheat straw fiber, cellulose and the sugars in corn, sugarbeets and sugarcane.
“One of our biggest success stories so far is soy foam,” Lee says.
All Ford North American-built vehicles use bio-based foam in seat cushions and backs. Ford’s use of bio-based foam has helped the company reduce its petroleum oil use by more than 3 million pounds annually and carbon dioxide emissions by more than 15 million pounds.
Even more recently, Ford and Lear Corporation introduced a new head restraint foam with 25 percent of the polyol replaced with soy.
“The traditional materials we’re using today are based on petroleum, which is a limited resource,” Lee said. “If we can replace that with something that’s renewable and better for the environment, we’re looking at a win-win situation.”
Lee, a chemical engineer, received her bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and her doctorate degree from the University of California-Berkeley. She believes it was her experience in California that first opened her eyes to the importance of sustainability.
“I remember my roommate had a compost bin in the kitchen and I said, ‘What’s that?’’’ she recalls. “But I began to realize how important it is to conserve as many of our resources as we can. I look at the earth, and I want to make sure that it’s here for my kids, and for their kids – for future generations. It’s important to be as sustainable as possible.”
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