Remember that famous line from The Graduate about the future being all about plastics? In some ways it still is, but in increasingly eco-friendly ways.
Ford is making its vehicles more eco-friendly through increased use of renewable and recyclable materials such as the soy and bio-based seat cushions and seatbacks on the 2010 Ford Taurus.
Ford vehicles are now 85 percent recyclable by weight. In 2009, Ford saved approximately $4.5 million by using recycled materials, and diverted between 25 and 30 million pounds of plastic from landfills in North America alone.
The 2010 Ford Taurus is the eleventh Ford vehicle to feature earth-friendly bio-based seat cushions and seatbacks. Ford has more vehicle models with seats that use soy and other bio-based foams than any other automaker. Ford Mustang, F-150, Focus, Flex, Escape, Expedition and Econoline as well as Mercury Mariner, Lincoln MKS and Navigator also use the sustainable material.
Ford’s “reduce, reuse and recycle” commitments are part of the company’s broader global sustainability strategy to reduce its environmental footprint while accelerating the development of advanced fuel-efficient vehicle technologies around the world.
Building in green materials
For the past several years, Ford has concentrated on increasing the use of non-metal recycled and bio-based materials, including:
- Bio-based (such as soy) polyurethane foams on the seat cushions, seatbacks and headliners on 11 vehicle models. The 2 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles on the road today with bio-foam seats equates to a reduction in petroleum oil usage of approximately 1.5 million pounds
- Post-consumer recycled resins such as detergent bottles, tires and battery casings used to make underbody systems, such as aerodynamic shields, splash shields and radiator air deflector shields. The latest example is the engine cam cover on the 3.0-liter V-6 2010 Ford Escape. As a result, Ford has diverted between 25 and 30 million pounds of plastic from landfills
- Post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics on vehicles such as the Ford Escape and Escape Hybrid. A 100 percent usage of recycled yarns can mean a 64 percent reduction in energy consumption and a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the use of new yarns
- Repurposed nylon carpeting made into nylon resin and molded into cylinder head covers for Ford’s 3.0-liter Duratec® engine. The industry’s first eco-friendly cylinder head cover is used in the 2010 Ford Fusion and Escape
- The automotive industry’s first application of wheat straw-reinforced plastic for the third-row storage bins of the 2010 Ford Flex. The natural fiber replaces energy-inefficient glass fibers commonly used to reinforce plastic parts
In support of Ford’s global product development strategy, material engineers are developing standardized specifications for sustainable materials while working with parts purchasers and suppliers to use eco-friendly components in different markets.
For example, the European Ford Focus uses recycled polymer in such components as the battery tray, wheel arch liners, seat fabric and carpets. Materials engineers are in the process of determining if recycled polymer can be used for similar components in the global Focus coming to North America and Europe in 2011.
What the future holds
Materials researchers continue to explore sustainable material applications, such as an eco-friendly replacement for the fiberglass used between the headliner and roof sheet metal that will be bio-based, lighter weight, and will deliver improved acoustics and neutralize odor.
In addition, Ford researchers are developing natural-fiber composites as a potential substitute for the glass fibers traditionally used in plastic car parts to make them stronger while reducing vehicle weight, which helps improve fuel economy and reduces emissions. Natural fiber composites also are more eco-friendly, because their production and end-of-life incineration are less energy intensive than glass fibers, which also results in lower emissions.
Ford researchers also are investigating ways to use plastics made entirely from sustainable resources such as corn, sugar beets, sweet potatoes and other vegetables. These renewable materials will help reduce dependency on petroleum, reduce CO2 emissions and allow the composting of the material at the end of a vehicle’s life.
What comes out
Automobiles are among the most recycled consumer products in the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 95 percent of all end-of-life vehicles in the U.S. are processed for recycling – compared to 52 percent of all paper and 31 percent of all plastic soft drink bottles.
In Europe, automakers are required to take back the vehicles they’ve produced at the end of the vehicles’ useful lives. Ford has end-of-life recycling networks for its vehicles in 16 European markets and participates in industry collective systems in another 10. In 2007, Ford became one of the first automakers in Europe to be certified in compliance with end-of-life requirements, including:
- Design and produce vehicles that facilitate the dismantling, reuse, recovery and recycling of them at end-of-life
- Reduce the use of hazardous substances when designing vehicles
- Increase the use of recycled materials in vehicle manufacture
- Ensure that parts do not contain mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium or lead
Reuse is a big part of the recycling story. Auto recyclers supply more than one third of all ferrous scrap to the U.S. scrap processing industry. When manufacturers use scrap iron and steel instead of newly produced ore, they reduce air and water pollution by more than half during the manufacturing process.
“By increasing the use of recycled or renewable content and reducing the use of undesirable materials whenever possible, we’re helping to reduce waste to landfills by millions of pounds – and we’re doing it around the world. More than ever before, the spirit of ONE Ford that drives our global product strategy also drives our commitment to sustainability.”
– John Viera, Ford’s Director of Sustainability and Environmental Policy
“We already have bio-based foam on more than 2 million vehicles and we’re looking to convert 100 percent of our fleet to it in the future. This is just one way that Ford is advancing the use of eco-friendly materials in the industry.”
– Jerry Brown, Ford Chief Engineer of Seat and Restraint Engineering
“Sustainable materials need to meet the same high standards for quality, durability and performance as virgin material; there can be no compromise on product quality.”
– Valentina Cerato, Ford Materials Engineer in Europe
“Natural fiber-reinforced plastics and plant-based polymer resins help reduce CO2 emissions by being entirely compostable, and in some cases reduce weight, which helps improve fuel economy. We have to entertain the thought of bio-replacement in baby steps, looking at every aspect of a car that could be green. One day I hope to see the world of automotive plastics go totally compostable, removing petroleum by 100 percent.”
– Debbie Mielewski, technical leader, Ford Plastics Research
“In theory, end-of-life vehicles are nearly 100 percent recoverable. In practice, however, the cost in energy and labor to recover all vehicle material often exceeds the value of the materials and offers insignificant value to the environment. We remain focused on achieving the highest economically viable and environmentally sound recovery percentage possible.”
– John Viera, Ford’s Director of Sustainability and Environmental Policy