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Ford investigating using cellulose in their plastic components

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Issue date: 
September 28th, 2012
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Timber Procurement


Ford is investigating using cellulose in vehicle components to  help further reduce the automaker’s reliance on traditional content such as fiberglass and petroleum.

Ford has been working with Weyerhaeuser for the past 3 years, investigating the use of a plastic composite material utilizing cellulose fibers from trees in place of fiberglass or mineral reinforcements.

Because the cellulose fibers in this new composite come from sustainably grown and harvested trees and related byproducts, such as chips, the environmental impact of building cars could be lessened. Specifically, replacing fiberglass, minerals and/or petroleum with a natural, plant-based material can sequester CO2 and ultimately lead to a smaller carbon footprint, among other benefits.

‘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,’ said John Viera, Ford global director of Sustainability and Environmental matters.

Ford’s research has found that Weyerhaeuser’s cellulose-based plastic composite materials meet the automaker’s stringent requirements for stiffness, durability and temperature resistance. Further, components weigh about 10 percent less and can be produced 20 to 40 percent faster and with less energy when made with cellulose-based materials compared with fiberglass-based materials. These weight and process savings can enable equivalent or reduced component costs.

And like other less-than-obvious candidates for use in vehicle components, such as retired and shredded paper currency, the cellulose-based plastic composite material could be as important to Ford as soybeans have become. Ford uses soybean-based cushions in all of its North American vehicles such as the all-new Fusion, saving about 5 million pounds of petroleum annually.

A record of sustainability

Ford’s industry leadership with increasing use of non-metal recycled and bio-based materials is nothing new. In fact, today’s vehicles feature all kinds of renewable and recycled materials:

  • The new Fusion uses the equivalent of about 42 recycled plastic bottles in its seat fabric and post-consumer recycled carpet in its cylinder head covers
  • Ford’s entire North American lineup of vehicles contain soybean-based cushions and head restraints
  • Flex has wheat straw in its plastic bins
  • Kenaf fiber – derived from a plant related to cotton and okra – is used in the door bolsters of Escape
  • Focus Electric uses a wood-fiber-based material in its doors and recycled plastic bottles in its seat fabric
  • The new Fusion contains the equivalent of slightly more than two pairs of average-sized American blue jeans as sound-dampening material
  • The equivalent of 25 recycled 20-ounce plastic bottles help make up the Escape’s carpet


Extpub | by Dr. Radut