By Eric Czarnik
In order to build a car, you need the right materials. And over at Ford Motor Co.’s exhibit at last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit, some of the automaker’s toughest, lightest and most sustainable materials shared the spotlight with its new, upcoming vehicles.
Some displays showed sustainable materials that Ford says it is using or testing in vehicles. It says algae foam is being tested as an alternative to oil-based foams. It also says using soy foam cuts down on the company’s carbon dioxide emissions.
“For example, we looked at the relative benefits of soy-based foam compared with traditional petroleum-based foams,” a display said. “Over the vehicle life cycle, using one pound of soy oil reduces CO2 by the equivalent of 5.5 pounds. So, we now use soy-based foam in all of our vehicles in North America.”
Examples of biomaterial usage at the exhibit included bamboo fiber for interior veneers, recycled cotton for carpet backers and rice husks for Ford F-150 wiring harnesses. In addition, some plastic parts for center consoles may have 20 percent cellulose in them, and plastic door liner can be made through the use of wheat fiber, the exhibit said.
Other plant-based materials featured in the exhibit included corn, hemp, kenaf and coconut husks. Among recycled materials, plastic bottles can be used to make carpeting, and Ford touted a “closed-loop materials recycling” strategy that takes materials out of old auto components and recycles them for the “same use.”
According to Ford, reasons for using these materials include producing a lighter vehicle that is friendlier to the environment. According to a Ford products specialist at the auto show, the company has been on the forefront of doing this for a long time.
“Henry Ford himself was actually very interested in soybeans,” she said. “He had his own soy lab as early as 1930 to research soybeans.”
The specialist said one advantage of sustainable materials is that they can be homegrown, biodegradable and are reclaimable at the end of the vehicle’s life. In addition, these materials are often lighter than their predecessors while still being sturdy and stable, she said.
Besides sustainable materials, the auto show was also a place for Ford to display the use of Corning Gorilla Glass on the new Ford GT supercar’s windshield. Ford representatives say the glass can make windshields thinner and about 30 percent lighter, yet the glass is strong enough to withstand a hailstone shot at it during a demonstration.
“This large windshield is all Gorilla Glass,” Ford’s Paul Linden explained. “This is going to take a much more substantial rock chip before it breaks.”