Ford Looks to Use More Recycled Materials in Cars and Trucks of the Future
DEARBORN, MI – Ford Motor Co. announced on May 24 that its color and materials designers are working on ways to introduce new recycled commodities and materials into cars and trucks of the future, reducing the impact of interior components on the company’s ecological “footprint.”
Ecological footprints are a way of describing the demands placed on the environment and for the use of the planet’s renewable and non-renewable resources. Within the next few years, recycled and recyclable forms of carpet, fabric, plastics, and other materials could start making their appearance within the Ford North American brands, said Jeffrey Post, design manager, Advanced Material/Brand Strategy for Color and Material design team.
Post-industrial or post-consumer recycled content and other sustainable material could someday be used for seating, instrument panels, headliners, flooring, or other components. So far, a small number of automotive companies have developed recycled and recyclable materials suitable for use in vehicle interiors.
The Advanced Color and Materials team is educating existing auto suppliers about opportunities for sustainable materials and processes used to produce those materials and/or parts.
Companies in separate industries are looking at ways of using each other's waste streams productively. Ford is already working with companies of this kind who specialize in helping other companies come up with ways to use waste streams and promoting cooperation among firms.
“People are saying, 'You have some waste that maybe I can use, but now I need to figure out what that product might be,'” said Lisa Nicol, designer with the Advanced Color and Materials. She says it would be a mistake to presume that recycled materials would be less than first-class. “These are going to be materials that look nice and feel nice — and they just happen to be made from recycled raw materials.”
One reason for her optimism: Some of the new materials incorporate raw materials that have been regenerated from post-industrial waste streams, not post-consumer waste. That means they are using the remnants from the process of producing a new product, be it carpet, tennis shoes, plastic food containers, or other items. Regenerating and using post-industrial waste for materials, or up-cycling, helps to reduce the amount of virgin raw materials needed to produce a finished product. Those leftover materials have many of the same properties as virgin materials.
While many sustainable or recycled materials are used now in Ford vehicles for under-hood componentry, Nicol notes that these new materials and sustainable innovations will come in direct contact with the customer. That effort won’t be lost on the consumer, she said.
Although his team’s mission primarily involves surfaces, Post said its members are working with the Ford sustainability office and the scientific research and development lab to identify foams and other non-visual support materials beneath the surfaces that could be made recyclable or made from recycled materials. “In this way, we might be able to create an entire fully sustainable part or module,” he said.
“We are currently involved in our testing phase on carpets, fabrics, rubber and other regenerated cover material on a production vehicle that is in our cycle plan,” Post said. Placement in vehicles scheduled for 2008- or 2009-model years is possible, he said.
Ford defines sustainability as creating value while preserving environmental and social capital. In this view, environmental capital will be preserved if the manufacturing of interior surface components leaves as little waste as possible in its wake.