Ford aims to implement carbon-based foam products by 2021

American car giant Ford has set itself a five year window to introduce new foam and plastic components made from carbon dioxide feedstock, as the carmaker becomes the first in its industry to test the viability of CO2-based materials.

New tests conducted by Ford have revealed that the new foam – consisting of 50% CO2-based polyols – can meet “rigorous” automotive testing standards and could potentially reduce the amount of petroleum used by more than 600 million pounds annually.

Ford has claimed that the new foam – which researchers believe will be integrated into vehicle production by 2021 – could reduce the use of fossil fuels in Ford vehicles as it replaces traditional materials used in seating and underhood applications.

“Ford is working aggressively to lower its environmental impact by reducing its use of petroleum-based plastic and foam,” Ford’s senior technical leader of sustainability Debbie Mielewksi said.

“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.”

With plastic manufacturing accounting for nearly 4% of the world’s oil use, Ford is hopeful that the research and “early steps” to capture carbon will help achieve the long-term goals established at the recent Paris Agreement.

Ford researchers have been working for nearly two decades to implement a successful biomaterial into production. In the US, every Ford vehicle is using a soy-based foam material, while coconut fibre is used in back-trunk liners and recycled tires, t-shirts and denim are used in mirror gaskets and carpets. Ford also utilises plastic bottles to create 100% recycled REPREVE fibre.

Ford’s work to capture CO2-based feedstock began in 2013 when it partnered with suppliers and universities to develop the material. By utilising the expertise of New York based polymer producers Novomer, Ford is now able to produce recyclable polymers that can be built into a variety of materials.

“Novomer is excited by the pioneering work Ford has completed with our Converge® CO2-based polyols,” Novomer’s chief business officer Peter Shepard said. “It takes bold, innovative companies such as Ford to enable new technologies to become mainstream products.”

Sticking to the plan

The carbon-based polymer is the latest in a line of innovative measures introduced by Ford to place itself at the vanguard of the low-carbon transition.

Alongside ploughing $4.5bn investment into the electric vehicle movement, the company has also invested time, research and money into remanufacturing techniques. Faced with a European market that could triple by 2030, Ford has developed an innovative recycling technique that rejuvenates worn-out engine blocks and delivers a 50% reduction in CO2 emissions compared to producing a new engine.

The company has also announced plans to mimic the sticky toe pads of geckos to help it boost the recyclability of its car parts. The new pilot scheme aims to negate the need for glue – which makes recycling polymers nearly impossible – by teaching 200 designers and researchers about biomimicry and how to apply it to their work.

Matt Mace

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