Ford have started using a surprising new material in the latest production of their new cars. It’s something you’ve probably sat on, built with or planted and is the world’s strongest natural material – bamboo!
Ford began researching the use of sustainable materials in its vehicles in 2000. Today, the automaker uses eight sustainable-based materials in its vehicles including soy foam, wheat straw, kenaf fibre, cellulose, wood, coconut fibre and rice hulls. While investment in research has led to breakthroughs in new materials like strong carbon fibre and lightweight aluminium, nature’s wonder material bamboo has been growing all along and as much as three feet in one day. Just how soon might expect this natural resource inside our cars? It grows to full maturity in just two to five years which means it can easily regenerate.
"The benefits of bamboo have been recognised for more than a century."
Over the past several years, Ford ( @Ford ) has worked with suppliers to evaluate the viability of using bamboo in vehicle interiors to make extra strong parts by combining it with plastic. The research team has found that bamboo performs comprehensively better than other tested synthetic and natural fibres in a range of material tests. It has also been heated to more than 212 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure it can maintain its integrity.
“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability research department. “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help our impact on the planet. It is work that I’m really proud of, and it could have broad impact across numerous industries.”
The benefits of bamboo have been recognised for more than a century. Thomas Edison famously experimented with it when making the first light bulb. Whilst in building, its extreme strength can rival some metals.
“Bamboo is amazing,” said Janet Yin, a materials engineering supervisor at Ford’s Nanjing Research & Engineering Centre. “It’s strong, flexible, totally renewable, and plentiful in China and many other parts of Asia.”
While tests on bamboo continue, Ford is already making use of sustainable and recycled materials. The company recently announced its collaboration with Jose Cuervo to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles.
Ford and Jose Cuervo are testing the bioplastic for use in vehicle interior and exterior components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins. Initial assessments suggest the material holds great promise due to its durability and aesthetic qualities. Success in developing a sustainable composite could reduce vehicle weight and lower energy consumption, while paring the use of petrochemicals and the impact of vehicle production on the environment.
“At Ford, we aim to reduce our impact on the environment,” said Mielewski. “As a leader in the sustainability space, we are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibers, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel economy.”
This is not all Ford have been working on. Their green projects have also seen them use other renewable practices in their production process.
Recycled cotton, denim, plastic bottles and old nylon carpet has been used in the interiors of many of the Ford range. Additionally soy-based foams are used as seat cushions, seatbacks and head restraints in Ford’s North American vehicle line-up; recycled plastic bottles are becoming floor carpeting, wheel liners and shields in several vehicles and cellulose tree fibres are used in some armrests. Used to replace glass-filled plastic, this industry-first material weighs 10 percent less, is produced 30 percent faster, and reduces carbon emissions.