By Rhoda Miel, Plastics News Staff
Sterling Heights, Michigan -- Ford Motor Co. is continuing its push into environmentally friendly materials for its cars, and is looking to partner with researchers and suppliers who have innovative approaches.
"I'm not picky. I'll take recycled [parts] just as easily as renewable," said Debbie Mielewski, technical leader of Ford's plastics research group, during the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive TPO Conference 4 Oct in Sterling Heights. "The vision is to take all these environmentally important materials and put them into the car."
Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford touts its green credentials as the first automaker to begin using soyabean oil urethane blends in its seats, starting in 2004. It added wheat straw filler to a storage bin in the Ford Flex in 2009, and is expanding both of those programmes, Mielewski said.
But beyond the parts already in use, Ford is looking at a variety of research programmes into other projects that would improve its cars' environmental impact, but still provide the same performance as standard materials but not add an economic burden.
That includes continuing studies into using aluminium tooling for some injection moulded parts - which would reduce energy consumption through faster cycle times - degradable resins such as polylactic acid and ways to recycle painted TPO (thermoplastic olefin) bumpers into new bumpers by removing the paint, she said.
Beyond those projects, Ford just began a new project looking at the potential of using recycled high density polyethylene from milk bottles and laundry detergent containers for washer fluid bottles, air ducts and other functional parts, she said.
While Mielewski encouraged suppliers to come forward with new ideas, Ford also is taking advantage of research beyond traditional sources. It is continuing work with the United Soybean Board into more uses for soya-based urethane blends and worked with a coalition that included the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, and A. Schulman Inc. to use wheat straw in Schulman's AgriPlas resin used in the Flex.
Ford is also interested in learning more about Ohio State University's study into creating rubber for both rubber and plastic blends from the Russian dandelion, she said.
While the research into finding renewable sources of plastics may raise some ethical dilemmas of using plants for industry rather than food, Mielewski said the work needs to be done.
"I think we're waiting too long to develop the materials of the future," she said. "I would rather use a wheat straw, which is not a food source, but if we use that as an excuse, then we're not going to develop new products."