DEARBORN, MICH. (Updated Oct. 13, 2 p.m. ET) — Ford Motor Co. is continuing its research into the use of natural fibers and bio-based plastics, this time investigating the use of coconut husks as a composite reinforcement.
Ford and yard and garden company The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. are looking at uses for coconut husks – or coir – left over from Scotts' existing production operations. It is also using husk in the load floor of the electric version of its 2012 Focus.
“We're taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles,” said Ellen Lee, technical expert for plastics research at Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford in an Oct. 6 press release.
Ford already has used wheat straw as a filler in door trim bins, uses a soybean oil-based urethane foam blend in seats and castor oil blend for instrument panels.
Scotts Miracle-Gro, based in
Scotts uses more than 70 million pounds of husks per year, and teaming up with Ford would be a potential high value use for its leftover material, said Dave Swihart, senior vice president of Scotts' global supply chain.
Ford plans to research the use of the husk as reinforcement in plastic parts, which would reduce the amount of plastic needed and lighten part weight. Visible natural fibers would also provide a more natural look to reinforced parts than traditional fillers, the company said.
For the Focus Electric, coconut fibers are used in a 50-50 blend with polypropylene as the reinforcement in a trunk load floor. It replaces a cotton shoddy used inside a sandwich structure for the part.
The part is a finalist in the Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Innovation Awards in the environmental category.
Ford is working with Natural Composites Inc. and Hobbs Bonded Fibers, both based in Waco, Texas, Switzerland's Autoneum Holding AG, and Advanced Fabricating Technology LLC of Rockford, Mich., on the project.