Ford is the first automaker to develop and implement environmentally-friendly wheat straw-reinforced plastic in a vehicle. Before you get carried away, the car itself, a Ford Flex, isn’t made of plastic, instead, it’s just the third-row interior storage bins made from the natural fiber-based plastic that contains 20 percent wheat straw bio-filler. Surprisingly though, Ford says this application alone reduces petroleum usage by some 20,000lbs per year, cuts CO2 emissions by 30,000lbs per year, and represents a smart, sustainable usage for wheat straw, the waste byproduct of wheat.
"Ford continues to explore and open doors for greener materials that positively impact the environment and work well for customers," said Patrick Berryman, a Ford engineering manager who develops interior trim. "We seized the opportunity to add wheat straw-reinforced plastic as our next sustainable material on the production line, and the storage bin for the Flex was the ideal first application."
The University of Waterloo already had been working with a plastics supplier in Ohio to perfect the lab formula for use in auto parts to ensure the material met industry standards for thermal expansion and degradation, rigidity, moisture absorption and fogging, and importantly, that it was odorless.
In less than 18 months after the initial presentation was made to Ford's Biomaterials Group, the wheat straw-reinforced plastic will soon be appearing in 2010 Flex vehicles, which are produced at Ford's Oakville (Ontario) Assembly Complex.
Dr Ellen Lee, technical expert, Ford's Plastics Research said that an interior storage bin may seem like a small start, but it opened the door for more applications.
"We see a great deal of potential for other applications since wheat straw has good mechanical properties, can meet our performance and durability specifications, and can further reduce our carbon footprint – all without compromise to the customer."
Ford is also considering center console bins and trays, interior air register and door trim panel components, and armrest liners to be made from the wheat straw-based plastic.
"Wheat is everywhere and the straw is in excess," said Lee. "We have found a practical automotive usage for a renewable resource that helps reduce our dependence on petroleum, uses less energy to manufacture, and reduces our carbon footprint. More importantly, it doesn't jeopardize an essential food source."
To date, Ford and its suppliers are working with four southern Ontario farmers for the wheat straw needed to mold the Flex's two interior storage bins.
Ford is also considering center console bins and trays, interior air register and door trim panel components, and armrest liners made from the plastic.
The company's other bio-based, reclaimed and recycled materials that are in Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles today, include:
See the stories that matter in your inbox every morning