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Ford sees green in green strategy

March 16, 2006

2 Min Read
Ford sees green in green strategy

Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI), which has made an environmentally friendly push through hybrid vehicle introduction, is pursuing multiple green paths, including the inclusion of soy-based foams, more recycled content, and natural fibers in its plastic parts, according to Dr. Ellen Lee.

Lee who works in plastics and composites at Ford''s Advanced Research Engineering Center, laid out the company''s efforts at the recent Global Plastics Environmental Conference (GPEC; Feb. 28-March 2, Atlanta) sponsored by the Society of Plastic Engineers (SPE) Plastic Environmental Division.

Collaborating with supplier partners Bayer, Lear, Intier, and Urethane Soy System, among others, Lee said Ford is using soy-based polyol to create flexible foams for use in interior applications like headliners, head rests, and arm rests, as well some potential exterior applications, including spray-in bedliners. It''s also replacing inorganic resin fillers like glass with organic ones like hemp. In South America, Lee''s colleague, Leandro Alfonso is using recycled PET and polypropylene in a greater number of applications.

Lee, who said Ford puts between 20 to 30 lb of foam in every vehicle, thought soy-based versions could offer cost savings of 20% over straight polyol foams. Currently the company is working with a polyol blend, which features soy- and petroleum-derived polyols. The goal is 100% soy-based polyol, but currently it is 40% soy-based, so that the final foam product is 18% soy.

From a processing standpoint, Ford hasn''t experienced many problems, but one early sticking, or smelling, point has been a slight odor from the soy, which Lee described as similar to vegetable oil.

Working with Natural Fiber, Ashland, Hempline, and Flexform on organic fibers, Lee said cost savings are possible there as well, with glass fibers running from $.50 to $.90/lb while natural fibers range from $.30 to $.80/lb.

Such fibers also offer weight savings up to 30%, but moisture absorption is an issue. The automaker looked at parts loaded with from 35-50% fibers, experimenting with up to 100% hemp as filler. Lee displayed a Taurus engine-valve cover and a Fusion toe-impact shield that were filled with 100% hemp.

On the recycled material front, Lee said Ford''s Brazilian division, which could reap government incentives, is working to replace ABS and PC/ABS with filled, recycled PP, using recycled PET as filler instead of glass. For an injection molded glove box made from recycled PP with wood flour filler, the company achieved a 17% weight and 54% cost reduction. The company has also used recycle PET in tailgate handles as a replacement for nylon, ABS, and PC/ABS, resulting in a cost reduction of 5-25%.

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