Ford & Weyerhauser Stumble on a More Sustainable Manufacturing Solution

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Not only do automakers have to answer to mother nature for the amount of gas their vehicles eat up on a daily basis, because most of the materials used in the manufacturing of cars themselves are petroleum or fiberglass based, they’re responsible for the depletion of a great amount of non-renewable resources before their vehicles are even on the road.  In order to create more sustainable manufacturing materials and reduce their global footprint, three years ago the Ford Motor Company teamed up with Weyerhauser, a leader in sustainable foresting.  Just this week the two companies announced the results of their efforts: a cellulose-based material that consists of tree fibers from discarded wood chips.

According to statements from Ford representatives, using the plant-based material to create necessary plastic components will allow the automaker to eliminate the use of petroleum in the process altogether. Additionally, the products made from cellulose will weigh a tenth as much as petroleum made products and will decrease production time and energy by between 20 and 40%.  Ford has already tested the cellulose material on prototype arm rests and has decided that it is up to par in terms of temperature resistance, durability and stiffness.  In a press release, Ford also said that they were excited to learn that the material won’t discolor and is without a noticeable odor.  Though this news is creating quite a buzz at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, the American automaker is already known throughout the industry as a leader in the use of bio-based manufacturing materials.

Last week Ford released its 2013 Fusion, which was manufactured using soybeans, recycled denim, and recycled plastic bottles.  A press release from May of last year describes how each of these materials is used in detail.  Ford uses the soybeans to create the foam inside of the seats, the denim to absorb and reduce road noise, and fibers from the recycled bottles to increase the durability of interior fabrics. The 2013 Fusion isn’t the only car Ford uses soybeans for however.  The bio-based material can be found in the seat padding of all their North American produced vehicles.

Since Ford began using the soybeans, they’ve cut down on petroleum production significantly and each year have saved 20 million pounds of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.  While many people at Ford are hoping that the tree-based cellulose will be as successful, it will definitely be interesting to see whether this sustainable technology will spread to other automakers and to other industries as well.

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