We continue to use durable, plant-based materials because they provide many environmental, economic and performance benefits. These include lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; vehicle weight reduction and improved fuel economy; reduced manufacturing energy use; and a reduced dependence on petroleum-based plastics. They also help divert waste from landfill and generate new revenue opportunities for the agricultural sector.
Soy Was Just the Start
Around 8 percent of all petroleum oil goes into plastic and, once used, half of that is dumped into landfills; the rest often ends up in our oceans or is burned. Relatively little is recycled.
Our research scientists in the U.S., Germany, China and Brazil have been exploring ways to replace petroleum-based plastics with more sustainable materials since 2000. It’s been over a decade since Ford first used soybean-based foam, and since 2011 it’s been a key material in the seat cushions, seat backs and headrests of every vehicle we build in North America. To date, after more than 18.5 million vehicles and half a trillion soybeans, we’ve saved more than 228 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere – that’s the equivalent carbon footprint of 4 million trees in a year.
We’ve also been researching cellulose from trees in its nano form, and have found some very interesting properties. When added to plastics, nanocrystalline cellulose produces excellent sound damping. In foams, it’s found to significantly increase the mechanical properties of the material. We look forward to using these findings in our products soon.
Using the Whole Farm
Our renewable materials program has expanded to include a wide range of foams, plastics and composites derived from renewable resources (see our What’s in a Vehicle? graphic). We currently feature eight sustainable materials in our production vehicles: soy, wheat, rice, castor, kenaf (hibiscus), tree cellulose, jute and coconut. And as we continue to experiment, the list of renewable resources we are researching reads like an entire farm – tomato skin, bamboo (a remarkably versatile material), agave fiber (working with Jose Cuervo® in Mexico), dandelion roots and even algae. We’re also exploring innovative uses of carbon itself and are first in the industry to develop foams and plastics using captured CO2.
Around 300 vehicle parts are derived from renewable materials, many of which were pioneered by Ford. These materials reduce the weight of vehicle parts such as seat cushions, storage bins and door panels, meet all of our strict durability and performance requirements; and provide agricultural suppliers with new revenue streams.
More than 30,000 soybeans are typically used in a Ford vehicle for seat backs and cushions.