Dearborn, Michigan – Ford has become the first automaker to develop and use environmentally-friendly wheat straw-reinforced plastic in a vehicle, with its introduction on the 2010 Ford Flex. The process was developed in Ontario.
The plastic, which contains 20 per cent wheat straw bio-filler, is used on the Flex’s third-row interior storage bins. The company said this application alone reduces petroleum usage by some 9,072 kg per year, reduces CO2 emissions, and represents a sustainable use for wheat straw, which is a waste byproduct of wheat.
“Ford continues to explore and open doors for ‘greener’ materials that positively impact the environment and work well for customers,” said Patrick Berryman, an engineering manager for interior trim. “We seized the opportunity to add wheat straw-reinforced plastic as our next sustainable material on the production line, and the storage bin for the Flex was the ideal first application.”
Ford researchers were approached with the wheat straw-based plastics formulation by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, as part of the Ontario BioCar Initiative, a multi-university effort between Waterloo, the University of Guelph, the University of Toronto and the University of Windsor. Ford works closely with the Ontario government-funded project, which seeks to advance the use of more plant-based materials in the auto and agricultural industries.
The University of Waterloo had already been working with plastics supplier A. Schulman of Akron, Ohio to perfect the lab formula for use in auto parts. Less than 18 months after the initial presentation to Ford, the product was refined and approved for the Flex, which is built exclusively in Ford’s plant in Oakville, Ontario.
The company is currently considering using the product in other applications, including centre console bins and trays, interior air register and door trim panel components, and armrest liners. Wheat straw is typically discarded, and the company said that Ontario has some 30 million metric tons available at any given time.