Sustainable Cars Made from Natural, Recycled Materials
Have you ever wondered how an electric vehicle works, or how car companies can use more environmentally friendly materials? Ford sustainability expert John Viera has spent his entire career working on everything from fuel efficiency improvements in cars to sustainability initiatives for manufacturing facilities, and is excited to talk shop with Sierra Club Green Home readers.
Compostable Cars of the Future
Ford recently began incorporating natural, environmentally friendly materials into its car parts, including wheatstraw and soy products. Its scientists are also researching uses for coconut husks, carrots, and corn-based plastics. The company envisions making cars with 100% biodegradable interiors in the future.
Wheatstraw is a waste product of wheat. That means using it diverts waste from landfills, and does not require extra agricultural land. Manufacturers use wheatstraw to create fibers that go in the center consoles and bins, which makes these car components biodegradable and more environmentally friendly.
Since soy is grown in excess in the United States, Ford partnered with the United Soybean Board to use soy in every one of its vehicles. “Soy foam” is used in the headrests and seats of cars. This foam is made from petroleum, like conventional foam, but soy oil is used as a substitute for 4-11% of the petroleum. This reduces carbon emissions and the amount of petroleum extracted. Soy oil is also used to create the sealing rubber applied throughout the car, and researchers are looking into using dandelion for similar purposes. Although this is slightly more environmentally friendly than conventional foam, the natural ingredient is such a small part of the foam that it is not biodegradable or low-impact.
With coconut husks, the fibers and sugars are extracted from the husk for material use. This coconut material is currently being used in research for seat fiber materials, and for replacing petroleum in plastic production. One benefit of using coconut oil in the plastic is that it makes for a lighter car, which increases fuel efficiency.
Blue Jean and Plastic Bottle Carpets
Ford is also finding ways to use fewer virgin materials (those extracted from the earth) and more environmentally friendly, recycled materials in their cars.
For the Focus Electric, Ford teamed up with fabric supplier Sage Automotive Interiors and Unify Yarns to create car fabric from post-industrial waste. Sage sells their post industrial waste to Unify, who then makes it into yarn. This yarn is then sold back to Sage. Sage then uses this yarn to make interior car fabric, then sells the fabric to Ford to make the fabric in its cars.
Ford is also collecting bottles from conferences to use in the entire fleet of Focus Electric cars next year. Its goal for the “2 Million Bottles Campaign” is to collect millions of plastic bottles and create bottle carpeting and seat fabric. The company already incorporates up to three pairs of used denim jeans per car in the carpet mats of some models.
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