Ford Motor Company claims to be the first automaker to formulate and test new foam and plastic components using captured carbon dioxide (CO2) as feedstock. Within five years, the company expects to be using the new biomaterials in its vehicles.
Foams formulated with up to 50 percent CO2-based polyols have shown promise in ‘rigorous’ automotive tests, and could be used in seating and under-hood applications. The company claims that the CO2-derived foam will reduce the use of fossil fuels in Ford vehicles – potentially reducing petroleum use by more than 600 million pounds annually. Other plastic materials are currently under development.
“Ford is working aggressively to lower its environmental impact by reducing its use of petroleum-based plastic and foam,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader of sustainability. “This technology is exciting because it is contributing to solving a seemingly insurmountable problem – climate change. We are thrilled to be leading the charge toward reducing carbon emissions and the effects of climate change.”
The polymer that forms the basis of the new materials is produced by New York-based Novomer. The company uses CO2 captured from manufacturing plants to produce a variety of materials including foam and plastic that are “easily recyclable.”
“Novomer is excited by the pioneering work Ford has completed with our Converge® CO2-based polyols,” said Peter Shepard, Novomer chief business officer. “It takes bold, innovative companies such as Ford to enable new technologies to become mainstream products.”
Novomer is one of several organizations – including suppliers, universities, and other companies – that Ford has been working with since 2013 to find applications for captured CO2. Ford is already using materials such as soy foam, coconut fiber and recycled materials such as tires, T-shirts and plastic bottles in its vehicles, as well as investigating other sustainable options such as remanufacturing engines and biomimicry-inspired adhesives.
The automaker also recently expanded its Ford Smart Mobility pilot program in The Gambia, one of Africa’s smallest, poorest countries. Building on its previous work with Riders for Health, Ford has equipped 50 motorcycles with its OpenXC sensor technology so that the medical services group can collect a variety of data, including mapping coordinates, to improve the delivery of medical services and supplies.
Motorcycles allow quicker, more affordable transportation to remote areas across hazardous terrain, especially during the intense rainy season. Before motorcycles, healthcare workers used bicycles or had to walk, limiting their access to people who were ill, prompting Riders for Health to take action.
“Where no transportation is available, a lot of people will be dying,” said Ebrima Kuruma, the sole healthcare worker in the small town of Basse. “People will be losing their lives just because we didn’t have the means of transportation.”
Ford’s OpenXC technology records every trip and is able to build a database of the Riders for Health team’s routes, vehicle operating parameters, and environmental conditions like altitude and ambient pressure. The data is uploaded when a rider logs on to the internet and is accessed via an app on a Ford-provided mobile phone. While Ford and Riders for Health can already add real-world context, such as what was accomplished at stops along a route, they are still working to integrate other sources of data such as driver and rider logs, local maps, and terrain and weather information.
“Ford is helping us to better understand the modes of transportation that we are using in our program,” said Therese Drammeh, Riders for Health country director for The Gambia. “By looking at how our motorcycles and pickup trucks are responding to the needs of the community, we can make them more efficient.”
Arthur Zysk, Ford research analyst leading the company’s data-driven healthcare program, said, “In some parts of The Gambia, mobility facilitates delivery of life-saving healthcare services to those in need. As Ford sees mobility in different ways, we’re committed to using technology to bring about real, measurable change.”