One of the most notable environmental award winners at SPE’s GPEC 2014 (Global Plastics Environmental Conference) held in Orlando, March 13-14, was the plastics from renewable sources award which was presented to Ford Motor and Coca-Cola. The two companies collaborated in the development of the first-ever automotive interior fabric made from the same renewable material used to produce Coca-Cola’s PlantBottle Technology.
Consisting of up to 30 percent plant-based materials, the fabric is used for surface covering of seat cushions, seat backs, head restraints, door-panel inserts and headliners in the 2014 Ford Fusion Energy plug-in hybrid research vehicle. This also marked the first application of PlantBottle technology beyond packaging. Since its introduction as the world’s first recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially by plants, more than 18 billion PlantBottle packages have been distributed in 28 countries, resulting in more than 400,000 barrels of oil saved. The collaborators estimate that if PlantBottle interior fabric were migrated across the majority of U.S. Ford models, it would displace nearly 4 million/lbs of petroleum-derived materials, as well as save the equivalent of 295,000 gallons of gasoline and 6000 barrels of oil.
Angela Harris, research engineer at Ford’s materials & processes department, discussed with PT some of the other most recent developments regarding used of renewable materials in Ford vehicles. They include:
• The electrical harness of the 2014 Ford F-150 pick-up truck which is made of PP reinforced with rice hulls—a byproduct of rice grain. The PP composite was developed by RheTech to replace a talc-reinforced PP compound, and is the latest addition to that company’s RheVision line of natural-fiber based plastic compounds.
• The floor console armrest substrate—a structural piece located within the center console armrest—of the 2014 Lincoln MKX crossover vehicle features a cellulose-reinforced PP (CRP). It represents a three-year collaboration between the automaker, forest products sustainable solutions pioneer Weyerhaeuser and auto parts supplier Johnson Controls to develop a “tree-based”, renewable alternative to fiberglass for use in auto parts. The smaller parts currently made from CRP are roughly 6 percent lighter than their fiberglass counterparts and Ford is looking to transfer the material’s use to larger parts which could really benefit the vehicle weight, which benefits fuel economy.