Higher Oil Costs Could Speed Up the Use of New 'Green' Materials

Old U.S. paper money may help reduce petroleum dependence in future Fords.
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tDEARBORN – Rising oil prices have Ford pushing to reduce petroleum dependence and use more sustainable materials – including retired U.S. paper currency – to make parts.

tA wide range of alternatives to products now made with petroleum are under review for potential application in Ford vehicles – from shredded retired currency to cellulose from trees, Indian grass, sugar cane, dandelions, corn and coconuts.

t"Now, finding alternative sources for materials is becoming imperative as petroleum prices continue to rise and traditional, less sustainable materials become more expensive,” said Ford’s global director of Sustainability and Vehicle Environmental Matters.

t"The potential to reuse some of the country's paper currency once it has been taken out of circulation is a great example of the kind of research we are doing," Viera added.

tIn the early 2000s, when Ford started heavily researching sustainable materials, petroleum was readily available and relatively cheap; a barrel of oil was $16.65. Earlier this year, a barrel hit a high of $109.77.

tAdding to the appeal of the new potential resources is that they are so plentiful. For example, 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of retired paper currency are shredded daily – more than 3.6 million pounds annually. The shredded money is either compressed into bricks and landfilled, or burned.

tNew sustainable materials that can meet Ford's requirements and testing could join a growing list of alternatives to petroleum-based materials already in use.

tFord's use of soybean-based cushions in all of its North American vehicles including the all-new Fusion, for example, saves approximately 5 million pounds of petroleum annually. The all-new Escape has door bolsters partially made of kenaf – a tropical plant in the cotton family – offsetting the use of 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin per year in North America.

t"Building vehicles with great fuel economy is our highest priority in reducing our environmental impact," said Ford's Product Sustainability manager Carrie Majeske. "We recognize the use of sustainable materials inside our cars, utilities and trucks can also help reduce our environmental impact. These are steps that are not only better for our planet in the long run but are cost-effective as well."

tAs the business case for using sustainable materials strengthens, interest is growing in the potential of some unexpected and interesting sources, including the shredded paper money and coconut fibers. Ideas once considered far off now merit serious consideration.

t"We have been working with an ever-increasing list of collaborators – chemical companies, universities, suppliers and others – to maximize efforts and develop as many robust, sustainable materials as possible for the 300 pounds of plastic on an average vehicle," said Dr. Debbie Mielewski, technical leader of Ford's Materials Research and Innovation team.

tThere is no guarantee any or all of these sustainable materials will end up in Ford cars and trucks, she added. But Mielewski is excited about how much more attention and support her team – and the whole subject of sustainable materials – is receiving.

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