Last month, multinational automotive manufacturer Ford Motor Company announced that it is the first automaker to formulate and test new foam and plastic components that use carbon dioxide (CO2) as feedstock. Researchers expect to see the new biomaterials in Ford production vehicles within five years.
Formulated with up to 50% CO2-based polyols, the foam shows promise as it meets rigorous automotive test standards. It could be employed in seating and underhood applications, potentially reducing petroleum use by more than 272-million kilograms yearly. CO2-derived foam will further reduce the use of fossil fuels in Ford vehicles and increase the presence of sustainable foam in the company’s global lineup.
“Ford is working aggressively to lower its environmental impact by reducing its use of petroleum-based plastic and foam,” says Ford senior technical leader of sustainability Debbie Mielewski. She adds that, 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.”
Carbon emissions and climate change are of growing concern to world leaders as a about 9 000 t of CO2 are released into the atmosphere globally every second. Plastic manufacturing accounts for nearly 4% of the world’s oil use, according to the British Plastic Federation. Ford researchers are hopeful that the company’s early steps to use captured carbon in innovative ways will help achieve the long-term goals to reduce global warming recently set in the United Nations Paris Agreement.
For nearly two decades, researchers have worked successfully to develop sustainable materials for Ford products. In North America, soy foam is in every Ford vehicle. Additionally, those vehicles feature coconut fibre backs and boot liners, while recycled tyres and soy are used in mirror gaskets, and recycled T-shirts and denim go into carpeting.
Ford began working with several companies, suppliers and universities in 2013 to find applications for captured CO2. Among them is New York-based company Novomer, which uses CO2 captured from manufacturing plants to produce innovative materials.
Through a system of conversions, Novomer produces a polymer that can be formulated into a variety of materials including foam and plastic that are easily recyclable.
“Novomer is excited by the pioneering work Ford has completed with our Converge CO2-based polyols,” says Novomer chief business officer Peter Shepard, adding that, it takes bold, innovative companies such as Ford to enable new technologies to become mainstream products.
“Ford is pleased to be in the vanguard – the first automaker – to embark on a course toward reducing carbon emissions.
“At Ford, we are aggressively developing new, more sustainable ways to produce high-quality products, with an eye toward preserving and improving our world,” Mielewski concludes.