July 11, 2007

Ford puts more renewable Soy in seats


Ford Fusion 999 racer
Ford Fusion 999 racer. Click image to enlarge


Dearborn, Michigan – Ford has announced that it has reached a breakthrough with renewable soy-based polyurethane seat foam, allowing up to 40 per cent of the standard petroleum-based polyol to be replaced with a soy-derived material. The foam is the primary component of a vehicle’s seat cushions, seat backs, armrests and head restraints.

While many in the automotive industry are experimenting with 5 per cent soy-based polyol, Ford has achieved 40 per cent, without comprising the foam’s durability, stiffness or performance. Initial projections estimate that using soy-based foam at high volumes could represent an annual material cost savings of as much as US$26 million, with one-quarter the level of total environmental impact of petroleum-based ingredients. Most automotive manufacturers currently use 100 per cent petroleum-based polyol foam, with an average of 14 kg of foam per vehicle.

The company says that a major roadblock with the 40 percent soy-based foam was its odour, reminiscent of vegetable oil; the company has applied for a patent for its new low-odour process to synthesize polyols. The new process uses room-temperature ultraviolet light, instead of high heat and catalysts, to make the soy polyol; high temperatures created the rancid odour. The company is currently working in conjunction with other organizations and suppliers to bring the technologies to the mainstream as quickly as possible; auto parts supplier Lear Corporation has conducted head restraint trials with the new foam.

Ford first showcased its work with soy foams in 2003, on the Model U concept, which featured soy-based seat cushions and resin composite tailgate. The company’s historical applications extend to the Model T, which Ford says once contained 27 kg of soybeans in its paint and moulded parts.

Connect with Autos.ca