Higher Oil Costs Could Speed Up the Use of New 'Green' Materials Such
as Old U.S. Paper Money in Future Fords
DEARBORN, Mich., April 17, 2012 /PRNewswire/
The price of petroleum – used to manufacture plastics – is rising,
making a stronger business case for finding new sustainable materials
for Ford cars and trucks
Potential alternatives to petroleum-based products, including old
U.S. paper currency retired from service and shredded, could join
soybeans, denim, plastic bottles and other materials used in Ford
A prime example is soybean-based foam material, used in seat
cushions, backs and head restraints, which saves Ford an estimated 5
million pounds of petroleum annually
Rising oil prices have Ford upping the ante in its push to reduce
petroleum dependence and use more sustainable materials – including
retired U.S. paper currency – to make parts.
A wide range of alternatives to products now made with petroleum are
under review for potential application in Ford vehicles – from
shredded retired currency to cellulose from trees, Indian grass, sugar
cane, dandelions, corn and coconuts.
"Ford has a long history of developing green technologies because
it's the right thing to do from an environmental perspective,"
said John Viera, Ford's global director of Sustainability and Vehicle
Environmental matters. "Now, finding alternative sources for
materials is becoming imperative as petroleum prices continue to rise
and traditional, less sustainable materials become more expensive.
"The potential to reuse some of 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," Viera added.
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
Adding to the appeal of the new potential resources is that they are
so plentiful. For 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
New sustainable materials that can meet Ford's stringent requirements
and testing could join a growing list of alternatives to
petroleum-based materials already in use.
Ford's use of soybean-based cushions in all of its North American
vehicles including the all-new Fusion, for example, 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.
It's just a start.
Pie-in-the-sky no more
"Building vehicles with great fuel economy is our highest
priority in reducing our environmental impact," said Carrie
Majeske, Ford's Product Sustainability manager. "We recognize the
use of sustainable materials inside our cars, utilities and trucks can
also help reduce our environmental impact. These are steps that are
not only better for our planet in the long run but are cost-effective
Ford has concentrated on increasing the use of non-metal recycled and
bio-based materials to reduce its dependence on petroleum products.
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
Kenaf is used in the door bolsters of Escape
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
These days the phones are ringing off the hook for Ford's
sustainability research team. As the business case for using
sustainable materials strengthens, interest is growing in the
potential of some unexpected and interesting sources, including the
shredded paper money and coconut fibers. Ideas once considered
pie-in-the-sky now merit serious consideration.
"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," said Dr. Debbie Mielewski, technical leader of Ford's
Materials Research and Innovation team.
That leaves sustainable materials like shredded money being tested to
determine how well they perform under certain conditions. Researchers
can then recommend potential use. Shredded money, for example, is
being considered for interior trays and bins, said Mielewski.
There is no guarantee any or all of these sustainable materials will
end up in Ford cars and trucks, she added. But Mielewski is excited
about how much more attention and support her team – and the whole
subject of sustainable materials – is receiving.
Ugly bean – pretty useful
"When we first started talking about this stuff 10 years ago, it
was mainly automotive and trade magazines showing interest in our
research," said Mielewski. "Now it seems to be everywhere.
We are working on very exciting research and it will be interesting to
see what comes next and how fast."
Soybeans could be considered the root of Ford's effort to use more
sustainable materials, which lower environmental impact while
providing a performance equivalent to the materials they are
Henry Ford first experimented with soybeans in the early part of the
last century, but the current soybean project began 10 years ago when
a group of farmers approached Ford seeking new uses for the abundant
soybean crop in the U.S. Midwest.
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.
"We had to come up with a product that performed as well as or
better than the products we had been using for decades," said
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
"Because Ford has such high standards, it took a long time,"
said Mielewski. "But after five years, we were finally able to
meet every single requirement – compression, durability,
Still, 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, said Mielewski.
"We were left alone to get creative, take our time and figure out
where and how these – and future – sustainable materials might fit
into our vehicles and processes, and that's great news for both our
customers and the environment," said Mielewski.
About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company (NYSE: F), a global automotive industry leader
based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles
across six continents. With about 164,000 employees and about 70
plants worldwide, the company's automotive brands include Ford and
Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor