It is no secret that consumers and manufacturers are moving away from using plastics because of their potential harm to the environment, long lifespan in landfills, and price instability, given the rise in petroleum prices. Now, Ford, the automobile manufacturer, wants to use wood fibers to replace some of the fossil-fuel-based plastics and foams in its cars.
The effort is a component of what some are calling “sustainable transportation.” The company is developing a range of electric vehicles in addition to researching the composition of tree fibers that could replace certain car parts.
Fiberglass, minerals, and petroleum have traditionally been the sources of vehicle interiors. But obtaining these materials leaves an environmental footprint and requires a reliance on fossil fuels, reports Torque News. The article says:
Replacing these materials with biomaterials means being able to grow the source materials, rather than source them from extractive mining practices. As a general principle, extractive mining is a ‘use once and throw away’ pattern that is a recipe for eventual society collapse because of running out of resources. Growing resources and materials is the opposite of ‘use once and throw away’ because we can always grow more plants.
“Our responsibility to the customer is to increase our use of more sustainable materials in the right applications that benefit both the environment and product performance,” says John Viera, global director of sustainability and environmental matters at Ford.
Ford and Weyerhaeuser, a company that grows and harvests trees in an environmentally sustainable manner, has been working on making cellulose-based plastic composite materials for vehicle components. The parts were put through a battery of tests.
“We found that working collaboratively at an early stage has accelerated the development of a material that has a high thermal stability, doesn’t discolor and doesn’t have an odor,” says Dr. Ellen Lee, Ford’s plastic research technical expert. “That’s important because it opens the door for use of the material in a wide range of applications that could eventually add up to significant environmental benefits across our product line.”
The collaboration has led the company to believe that biomaterials can not only be used for vehicle interiors, but also for exterior and under-the-hood components. The research is part of a trend in green manufacturers’ minds to treat the natural world as a factory for growing almost any kind of substitute material for traditional industrial parts.
Source: “Ford looking to use wood fibers for sustainable automobile interiors,” Torque News, 9/28/12
Image by Stephen Foskett.
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.