Ford's vehicles now 85% recyclable by weight

Could the day of the biodegradeable/recyclable car be too far off? Not in the minds of the engineers at Ford.

The Dearborn-based company's vehicles are now on average 85 percent recyclable by weight. That means they are made of everything from recycled metal to soy and bio-based seat cushions and seatbacks. Reaching 100 percent is something that could happen within the next generation.

"I don't see that as an unreasonable goal," says Deborah Mielewski, technical leader of plastics research at Ford. Had industry engineers and executives made such goals a priority decades ago, she adds, the company might be closer to that goal today. "If we put that energy into using re-useable and recycled materials we'd be there by now."

It's now a priority for Ford, which has been an industry leader in this sort of sustainable automotive manufacturing. Mielewski points out that an average car contains about 300 pounds of plastics. Her colleagues are working on how to make compostable plastic resins strong enough so they hold up for 15 years but will be able to break down not long after that.

Such advances mean more than green bragging rights for big corporations to impress the tree hugging crowd. Ford saved approximately $4.5 million by using recycled materials in 2009. And then there is the positive public relations generated from diverting between 25 and 30 million pounds of plastic from landfills in North America alone last year.

Among the green products in use inside Ford's vehicle lineup are:

  • Bio-based (such as soy) polyurethane foams on the seat cushions, seatbacks, and headliners on 11 vehicle models. The two million Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles on the road today with bio-foam seats equates to a reduction in petroleum oil usage of approximately 1.5 million pounds
  • Post-consumer recycled resins such as detergent bottles, tires, and battery casings used in underbody systems, such as aerodynamic shields, splash shields, and radiator air deflector shields. The latest example is the engine cam cover on the 3.0-liter V-6 2010 Ford Escape.
  • Post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics on the Ford Escape and Escape Hybrid. A 100 percent usage of recycled yarns can mean a 64 percent reduction in energy consumption and a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared to the use of new yarns.
  • Repurposed nylon carpeting made into nylon resin and molded into cylinder head covers for Ford's 3.0-liter Duratec® engine. The industry's first eco-friendly cylinder head cover is used in the 2010 Ford Fusion and Escape.
  • The automotive industry's first application of wheat straw-reinforced plastic for the third-row storage bins of the 2010 Ford Flex. The natural fiber replaces energy-inefficient glass fibers commonly used to reinforce plastic parts.

Source: Deborah Mielewski, technical leader of plastics research at Ford
Writer: Jon Zemke
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