Call it recycling with a twist. Ford Motor Company has formulated and tested new foam and plastic components using carbon dioxide as feedstock. Ford researchers expect to see the new biomaterials in Ford production vehicles within five years and gain the bragging rights for this feat.
Formulated with up to 50 percent CO2-based polyols, the foam is showing promise as it meets rigorous automotive test standards. It could be employed in seating and underhood applications, potentially reducing petroleum use by more than 600 million pounds annually – enough to fill nearly 35,000 American homes. CO2-derived foam will further reduce the use of fossil fuels in Ford vehicles and increase the presence of sustainable foam in the automaker’s global lineup.
“Ford is working aggressively to lower its environmental impact by reducing its use of petroleum-based plastic and foam,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader of sustainability. “This technology is exciting because it is contributing to solving a seemingly insurmountable problem – climate change. We are thrilled to be leading the charge toward reducing carbon emissions and the effects of climate change.”
Carbon emissions and climate change are of growing concern to world leaders as a staggering 2.4 million pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere globally per second. Plastic manufacturing accounts for nearly 4 percent of the world’s oil use, according to British Plastic Federation. Ford researchers are hopeful the company’s early steps to use captured carbon in innovative ways will help achieve the long-term goals to reduce global warming recently set in the UN Paris Agreement.
For nearly two decades, researchers have worked successfully to develop sustainable materials for Ford products. In North America, soy foam is in every Ford vehicle. Coconut fiber backs trunk liners; recycled tires and soy are in mirror gaskets; recycled T-shirts and denim go into carpeting; and recycled plastic bottles become REPREVE fabric used in the 2016 F-150.
Ford began working with several companies, suppliers and universities in 2013 to find applications for captured CO2. Among them is Novomer – a New York-based company that utilizes carbon dioxide captured from manufacturing plants to produce innovative materials. Through a system of conversions, Novomer produces a polymer than can be formulated into a variety of materials including foam and plastic that are easily recyclable.
“Novomer is excited by the pioneering work Ford has completed with our Converge CO2-based polyols,” said Peter Shepard, Novomer chief business officer. “It takes bold, innovative companies such as Ford to enable new technologies to become mainstream products.”
Ford is pleased to be in the vanguard – the first automaker – to embark on a course toward reducing carbon emissions.
“At Ford, we’re aggressively developing new, more sustainable ways to produce high-quality products, with an eye toward preserving and improving our world,” said Mielewski.