Choosing More Sustainable Materials

Click on the vehicle parts to the left to read more about sustainable materials in use


Recycled content carpets are used on many vehicles including the U.S. and European Focus and the 2011 Explorer

Replacement bumpers

Many European vehicles use recycled plastic replacement bumpers when original bumpers are damaged

Recycled seat fabric

Seat fabrics in versions of the Fiesta, Taurus, Mustang, Focus, F-150, Super Duty, Fusion, and Escape Hybrid use between 25% and 100% recycled content

Seat foam

Soy foam

Starting in 2011 all vehicles manufactured in North America use seat foam made with soy oil, which reduces CO2 emissions and decreases dependency on oil


High strength steels

Many vehicles including the 2011 Explorer and European Fiesta use high-strength steels, which weigh less than traditional steels with the same or better performance

Aluminium and Magnesium

Many vehicles including the Lincoln MKT and Ford Kuga use aluminium and magnesium parts, which are lighter weight than traditional steel

Recycled headliner fabric

The 2011 Fiesta in North America use between 50% and 75% recycled content in the headliner fabric

Underhood parts

Recycled plastics and nylon are used in non-surface parts on many vehicles including fan shrouds, battery trays, heater/air conditioning housing, wheel arch liners, engine fans and covers, and underbody systems

Decorative exterior parts

The 2011 Super Duty uses recycled content plastics on a range of parts including the bumper valences, license place brackets, and fog lamp bezels

Sound absorption materials

Recycled blue jeans are used in sound absorption materials on many vehicles including the 2012 Focus

Fender baffles

This noise dampening part on the 2011 Explorer is made of recycled steel from F-150 door panels, reducing manufacturing related CO2 emissions


Wheat Straw reinforced plastics

Injection molded plastics reinforced with renewable wheat straw instead of glass fibers were first implemented in storage bins on the 2010 Flex

Engineered wood technology

The Lincoln Navigator, MKX, and MKS use engineered wood from certified, sustainably managed forests, which reduce input materials and waste sent to landfill


Natural fibre reinforced compression molded plastics

Multiple European vehicles use compression molded plastics including the Ford Mondeo which uses plastics made with 50% kenaf and 50% polypropylene

We are working to improve the sustainability of our vehicles by using materials that are more sustainable from a total lifecycle perspective. This includes increasing the use of recycled, renewable, recyclable and lightweight materials. Recycled materials incorporate post-consumer and/or post-industrial waste materials; renewable materials are made from plant-based materials; and lightweight materials use special materials and/or designs that provide the same or better performance as other alternatives with less weight.

Recycled Materials

Our efforts to increase recycled materials focus on non-metallic parts, which traditionally have little or no recycled content. Since 2009, as part of our comprehensive recycled resin strategy, plastics for underbody and aerodynamic shields, fender liners, splash shields, stone pecking cuffs and radiator air deflector shields manufactured in North America have been made out of post-consumer recycled waste from detergent bottles, tires and automotive battery casings. In 2010, we improved this strategy to specify that rear wheel liners be produced from materials derived from 30 to 40 percent recycled content. These fabric parts are 50 percent lighter than plastic wheel liners and absorb sound, which will enable improved noise vibration and harshness performance while potentially reducing the need for sound-deadening insulators, sprays and foams.

Many Ford vehicles already use recycled materials for these applications, including the Ford Flex, Focus, Fusion, Edge, Ranger, F-150 and Explorer; and the Lincoln MKZ, MKX and Navigator. This recycled materials resin strategy saves money and reduces landfill waste. We estimate that Ford saved approximately $8 million in 2010 by using these recycled materials and diverted between 45 and 50 million pounds of plastic from landfills.

We are also using post-consumer recycled nylon in many exterior and under-hood parts, including air cleaner housings, engine fans, fan shrouds, HVAC temperature valves, engine covers, cam covers and carbon canisters.

The 2009 Ford Flex won the Society of Plastics Engineers 2008 Vehicle Engineering Team Award for use of innovative materials. The Flex’s recycled plastic underbody system uses approximately 20 pounds of post-consumer recycled waste per vehicle while reducing costs by 10 to 40 percent.

The all-new 2011 Ford Explorer uses many recycled materials, including materials recycled from our own manufacturing processes. For example, the noise-dampening fender baffles, which fit between the vehicle’s outer shell and its inner structure, are made from steel left over after stamping the door openings out of F-150 body sides. This reuse allows Ford to reduce its use of virgin steel by an estimated 119 tons for one year of production. Using less virgin steel also reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. As outlined in more detail below, the Explorer uses between 25 and 40 percent recycled fiber in its interior fabrics, including seat upholstery, bolster and carpeting. The use of recycled fiber instead of virgin fiber for the seating material is estimated to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent, waste by 17 percent and CO2 emissions by 14 percent.

The current Ford Mustang and the 2012 Ford Focus and Fiesta will each use more than 20 pounds of recycled polypropylene plastics in a range of parts, including the front and rear fender aprons, the front air dam, side rockers and the rear air deflector and under body air deflectors.

Overall, the 2012 Focus uses approximately 300 separate parts formed with recycled material, diverting approximately 20,000 tons of waste away from landfills each year. The parts incorporating recycled content and the amount of recycled content vary somewhat from region to region. Though this is a global vehicle, approximately 20 percent of parts and parts sourcing are different in different regions. In addition, the availability of recycled material feedstocks varies by region. The U.S. version of the Focus uses recycled content in a wide range of parts including:

  • Carpet backing and sound absorption
  • Carpets
  • Seat fabric
  • Front bumper
  • Trim panels
  • Battery housing, cover and base plate
  • Wheel arch liners
  • Heating/ventilation components
  • Fan shrouds
  • Seat supports

In Europe, we strive to use recycled polymers in all of our vehicles when they provide a more sustainable solution. In addition to recycled content in our new vehicle parts, we are also recycling damaged parts collected by dealers. In the UK, we are recycling bumpers that have been damaged in accidents or replaced in service. Ford dealers collect the bumpers, which are recycled into new bumpers and other plastic parts. Previously, dealers had to pay to dispose of these bumpers as waste. Currently, dealers store them in a container that is collected by Ford for free. In 2009, more than 23,000 bumpers across the UK Ford dealer network (equating to 70 metric tons of plastic) were diverted from landfills through this program.

Across our global operations, we are also using recycled materials for interior parts. This can be much more challenging than using recycled materials for underbody, subsurface and exterior black parts, because it is difficult to get the necessary appearance and performance when using recycled materials. We are continuing to expand our use of recycled seat fabrics and seat components that meet all appearance and performance requirements. The following table highlights some of these efforts:

Interior Recycled Materials Achievements

Vehicle Material Partner Benefits
2011 Ford Fiesta – North America 25 percent post-consumer recycled yarns for seat fabric Aunde
  • Reduces consumer waste
  • Reduces depletion of natural resources
75 percent post-consumer recycled yarns for non-woven headliner Freudenberg
2011 Ford Explorer 25–40 percent post-industrial recycled seat upholstery, bolster and carpeting Aunde, Guilford
  • Reduces energy consumption by at least 20 percent
  • Reduces waste by at least 17 percent
  • Reduces CO2 emissions by at least 14 percent
  • Reduces water use by at least 9 percent
2010 Ford Taurus SHO 100 percent post-consumer recycled yarns for seat fabric Miko Fabrics
  • Reduces waste
  • Reduces energy required for yarn manufacturing by 64 percent and manufacturing-related CO2 emissions by 60 percent
  • Fabric manufacturing process uses only neutral, nontoxic dyes and no harmful solvents
2010 Ford Taurus SEL 25 percent post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabric Guilford
  • Reduces consumer waste
  • Reduces depletion of natural resources
2010 Mustang Base Series 25 percent post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics Sage Automotive Interiors
  • Reduces consumer waste
  • Reduces depletion of natural resources
2010 Ford F-150 XL, XLT & FX4
2011 Ford Super Duty®
25 percent post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics Sage Automotive Interiors, Guilford, Aunde
  • Reduces waste
  • Reduces depletion of natural resources
2010 European Ford Focus RS (fabric option) 100 percent post-consumer recycled yarns for seat fabric Miko Fabrics
  • Reduces waste
  • Reduces energy required for yarn manufacturing by 64 percent and manufacturing-related CO2 emissions by 60 percent
  • Fabric manufacturing process uses only neutral, nontoxic dyes and no harmful solvents
2010 Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids 85 percent post-industrial recycled yarns and 15 percent solution-dyed yarns in seat fabric Sage Automotive Interiors
  • Reduces energy use
  • Reduces CO2 emissions
  • Reduces the use of dyes and chemicals
  • Reduces water use
  • Decreases the use of foreign oil
2010 Ford Fusion S series 27 percent post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabric Guilford
  • Reduces waste
  • Reduces depletion of natural resources
2010 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrid and gas vehicles 100 percent post-industrial recycled yarns in seat fabric Aunde
  • Reduces waste, water use and CO2 emissions
2008–2009 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner Hybrids and gas vehicles 100 percent post-industrial recycled yarns in seat fabric Interface
  • Uses 600,000 gallons less water*
  • Produces 1.8 million lbs less CO2 equivalents*
  • Reduces electricity use by 7 million kWh*

* Based on an annual volume of 80,000 vehicles

Since the 2009 model year, the seat fabrics in most of our new or redesigned vehicles are made from at least 25 percent post-industrial or post-consumer recycled content. In addition, many of our non-woven headliner fabrics now contain 50 to 75 percent recycled yarns, depending on the color.

In 2009, Ford joined a three-year research project investigating a new wood/plastic compound known as “liquid wood.“ Early findings show excellent recycling potential, as the material can be reprocessed up to five times and has an overall near-neutral CO2 balance.

We have expanded the use of recycled materials in several Class “A” decorative applications. For example, the 2011 Ford Super Duty® will use material derived from recycled battery casings on several aesthetic parts, such as license plate brackets, the 4x2’s bumper valence panel and the fog lamp bezels. These parts are “molded in color” and color-matched to provide visual harmony. The Super Duty is also using post-industrial and post-consumer recycled plastic for its fascia lower valence. This plastic was a finalist for the 2009 Society of Plastics Engineers Innovation awards.

Recycled materials do not mean low-quality materials. Our researchers work to insure that post-industrial recycled and post-consumer recycled plastic materials have the same level of quality and material specifications originally. In some cases, we are working to recycle the materials from our auto parts right back into the same use. For example, we are developing methods for recycling and cleaning post-industrial recycled fascia and bumper scrap so that it can be molded into new fascias and bumpers. We are even working to “upcycle” certain materials – that is, recycle it into uses with higher material and performance requirements than the virgin material. For example, we are working on upcycling post-consumer laundry and milk bottles into blow-molded automotive components. In addition, we are developing a method to recycle polyurethane foam scrap to make new polyurethane foam components instead of landfilling it at the end of its life.

Renewable Materials

We are actively researching and developing renewable material applications that will reduce our dependence on petroleum products and reduce our carbon footprint, while providing superior performance. Research scientists at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in the U.S., Ford’s Research Center in Aachen, Germany, and Ford of Brazil are focused on developing automotive foams, plastics and composites that are derived from renewable resources.

Since 2002, our researchers have pioneered research and development of soy-based polyurethane foams for automotive applications. The use of soy foam reduces CO2 emissions, decreases dependency on oil and increases the utilization of renewable agricultural commodities. Soy foam also offers the potential for cost savings as well as insulation from petroleum product price swings.

Many technical difficulties had to be overcome to produce soy-based foams that met all of our stringent durability and performance specifications for seating. In 2007, Ford was the first automaker to implement this innovative technology (on the seat cushions and seat backs of the 2008 Ford Mustang), and we have since migrated its use to 23 vehicle programs. As of 2011, all Ford Motor Company vehicles built in North America have soy foam in their seat cushions and backs. In addition, at least 75 percent of headrests produced in North America have soy foam, and the headliner on the Ford Escape is made from another kind of bio-based foam.

Ford currently has soy foam seats in more than 3 million vehicles on the road, which reduces petroleum oil usage by more than 1 million pounds (or 10,500 barrels) annually. Lifecycle analyses that compare soy foams with traditional petroleum-based foams show a net decrease of 5.5 pounds of CO2 per pound of soy oil used. Ford’s use of soy foam reduces our annual CO2 emissions by 15 million pounds – the annual equivalent of more than 1,000 typical American households. In addition, soy foam has up to 24 percent renewable content.

Ford has been recognized for its leadership on soy foam technology through multiple awards, including the 2009 R&D 100 award from R&D magazine, which honors technologies across multiple industries that help to solve societal, scientific and/or business challenges. Additional awards for this material include the United Soybean Board’s Excellence in New Uses Award (2006), the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Environmental Division Award (2008), the Society of Automotive Engineers’ International Environmental Excellence in Transportation Award (2008), and the Society of Plastics Engineers’ Automotive Division Innovation Award in the Environment category (2008).

Ford has licensed its soy foam technology to two companies – John Deere and Sears Manufacturing – that are investigating soy foam for seating applications in their agricultural equipment products. We are proud to have environmental technologies researched and developed by our Company used by other industries. Ford also continues to collaborate with the United Soybean Board, which has sponsored research grants for new applications using soy products. For example, Ford scientists are currently assessing the use of soy meal, flour and hulls as fillers in synthetic rubber and plastic applications.

Ford is also pioneering the use of soy oil in rubber. By using renewable soy oil as a 25 percent replacement for petroleum oil, Ford researchers more than doubled the rubber’s “stretchability” and at the same time reduced its environmental impact. Soy-based rubber parts – such as radiator deflector shields, air baffles, cup holder inserts and floor mats – are under consideration for future Ford vehicle programs.

Ford Research has also begun work on a new technology to make urethane foams even greener. This innovative technology will enable us to use old foam scrap (including soy foams) as a feedstock for new foam. Polyurethane makes up 5 percent of total solid municipal waste (about 1.3 million tons) in the U.S., and almost 24 percent of that is attributed to the automotive industry. The landfilling of foam at the end of an automobile’s useful life is a significant issue, and one that we continue to work to address. Our initial results formulating both rigid and flexible recycled foams in the laboratory have shown promise. We are excited about recycling foam because it is prevalent in landfills and because the current recycling of foam is limited to low-requirement applications such as carpet backing.

In November 2009, Ford introduced the world’s first application of wheat-straw-reinforced plastic in the third-row storage bins of the 2010 Ford Flex. Wheat straw is used to replace the glass fibers or minerals commonly used to reinforce plastic parts. The use of wheat straw is a highly efficient use of natural fiber, because it is a byproduct of growing wheat that is typically discarded. Furthermore, the use of wheat straw-reinforced plastics in the 2010 Flex storage bins reduced our petroleum usage by some 20,000 pounds and CO2 emissions by about 30,000 annually. The material weighs up to 15 percent less than plastic reinforced with glass or talc. Additional implementations of wheat-straw-reinforced plastics under consideration by the Ford team include console bins and trays, interior air registers, door trim panel components and armrest liners.

We are using engineered wood technology, which comes from a certified, sustainably managed forest and is a renewable resource, on several interior applications in North American vehicles. This wood, which is harvested under strict guidelines, is assembled into a composite and then stained to give it a warm, rich appearance. In addition, the use of engineered wood eliminates many of the extra processing steps necessary in producing real wood automotive trim parts, and the processing required is more environmentally friendly. For example, water-based stain can be used instead of solvent-based, and a solvent wash to remove oils is not needed. Additional bleaching and sealing operations are eliminated, which greatly reduces the production of volatile organic compounds. Engineered wood technology uses input materials more efficiently, so less waste material is sent to landfills. Engineered ebony wood was implemented on the 2008 Lincoln Truck, the 2008 and 2009 Navigator, the 2008 MKX and the 2009 MKS. Ford is also exploring other wood veneer alternatives, such as veneers from managed sustainable forests, to reduce our environmental impact footprint.

We are also using renewable materials on our European vehicles. For example, the Ford Mondeo uses a mixture of 50 percent kenaf plant fiber and 50 percent polypropylene in the compression-molded interior door panel. The average Ford vehicle sold in Europe uses between 10 and 20 kilograms of renewable materials, depending on the vehicle size class. The 2011 Ford Focus has natural fiber compression-molded door panels. Almost 300 parts used across Ford’s European vehicles are derived from sources such as cotton, wood, flax, hemp, jute and natural rubber.

To maintain our sustainable materials leadership in the future, Ford researchers are developing and formulating new materials and applications for other renewable materials, such as corn-based, compostable and natural-fiber-filled plastics. These materials will help to reduce the resource burden and waste generated and will help to reduce the weight of vehicles, thereby improving fuel economy. For example, we are developing a sustainable replacement for the fiberglass now used between the headliner of a vehicle and the roof sheet metal. The replacement material is bio-based, reduces weight, improves acoustics and neutralizes odor.

We are also developing natural-fiber composites as a potential substitute for the glass fibers traditionally used in plastic automotive components to make them stronger. We are assessing the possibility of substituting up to 30 percent of the glass-fiber reinforcement in injection-molded plastics with natural sisal and hemp fibers. These parts have competitive mechanical and thermal properties and good surface appearance, and can be cost competitive. These natural-fiber-reinforced parts also reduce vehicle weight and lifecycle CO2 emissions compared to glass-fiber-reinforced parts.

Finally, we are investigating ways to use plastics made entirely from renewable resources such as corn, sugarcane and switchgrass. These bio-based materials could have multiple benefits, including reduced dependency on petroleum, reduced CO2 emissions and the ability to compost instead of landfill materials at end of life. Ford researchers have made considerable inroads with polylactic acid (PLA) – a biodegradable plastic derived completely from the sugars in corn, sugar beets, sweet potatoes, sugar cane, Indian grass and other plants. When plastic parts made from PLA reach the end of their useful life, they can biodegrade in 90 to 120 days. In contrast, traditional petroleum-based plastics are projected to remain in landfills for hundreds of years. We are also assessing bio-yarns for use in making plant-based fabrics. Several technical issues must be overcome before these compostable plastics and fabrics meet our stringent wear, performance and durability requirements, but they hold great promise for future vehicles.

Lightweight Materials

We are actively pursuing the development and use of cutting-edge materials – including high-strength steels, lightweight metals such as aluminum and magnesium, and composite materials – to reduce the weight of our vehicles and improve their fuel economy without compromising safety or performance.

On the 2011 Ford Explorer, for example, nearly half of the vehicle structure, including the A-pillars, rocker panels and front beams, comprise high-strength steels, such as boron. These materials substantially reduce weight, while increasing vehicle strength and safety.

Similarly, the European Ford Fiesta stands on virtually the same footprint as the previous model, but weighs approximately 40 kilograms less, depending on engine choice, even after adding 10 kilograms of safety features and sound insulation. The use of high-strength steels – cold- and hot-formed – was the key to delivering the lighter weight and higher strength we needed for structural efficiency and crash performance. The materials used on the new Fiesta are setting a new benchmark in the small-car segment.

Ford researchers are investigating additional new types of steel that are up to three times stronger than current steels and improve manufacturing feasibility because they can be formed into parts more easily. We are also investigating polymeric plastic strengthening foams that are strong enough to stabilize bodywork in an accident but light enough to float on water. These foams are being used to reinforce sections of the steel auto body, such as the B-pillars. In addition, we are working on surface coatings that reduce engine friction and remain intact even under the most adverse conditions.

Ford is also increasing the use of aluminum and magnesium to reduce vehicle weight. For example, we implemented a new liftgate on the 2010 Lincoln MKT that combines a lightweight, die-cast magnesium inner panel with two stamped aluminum outer panels. This liftgate is more than 20 pounds, or 40 percent, lighter than a similar part made from standard steel.

In Europe, we launched a lightweight liftgate inner panel on the 2009 Ford Kuga, which reduced weight compared to a steel liftgate inner panel by 40 percent and reduced costs by 10 to 20 percent. This liftgate inner panel was a finalist for the Society of Plastics Engineers’ 2008 Chassis/Hardware/Powertrain Innovation Award. Ford researchers in Europe are also developing alternative (copper-based) wire harness technologies that will enable significant weight reductions.

We are also using nanotechnology to develop advanced lightweight materials that will allow us to decrease vehicle weight without sacrificing strength, safety or performance. Much of this work focuses on developing the ability to model material properties and performance at the nanoscale, which will allow us to develop better materials more quickly and with lower research and development costs.

In addition to this modeling work, Ford is experimenting with nano-filler materials in metal and plastic composites to reduce their weight while increasing their strength. For example, we are developing the ability to use nano-clays that can replace glass fibers as structural agents in reinforced plastics. Early testing shows plastic reinforced with 5 percent nano-filler instead of the typical 30 percent glass filler has strength and lightweight properties that are better than glass-reinforced plastics.

Ford is also working to understand the health and safety issues that may be posed by nano-materials. Ford has joined with other automakers under the U.S. Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) umbrella to sponsor research into nano-materials’ potential impact on human health and the environment. This research has addressed many health and environment-related questions so that we can focus our nano-materials research and development in areas that will be most beneficial.

Weight reductions alone may have relatively small impacts on fuel economy. By itself, a 10 percent reduction in weight results in approximately a 3 percent improvement in fuel efficiency. However, if vehicle weights can be reduced substantially, it becomes possible to downsize the powertrains required to run the vehicle. Weight reductions combined with powertrain rematching not only improves fuel economy, but helps maintain overall performance (compared to a heavier vehicle with a larger engine).

For more information on our weight-reduction activities, please see the Sustainable Technologies and Alternative Fuels Plan.