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 Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., the yard and garden specialist, are looking at uses for coconut husks, or coir, left over from Scotts' production operations.
“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-based Ford, in an Oct. 6 news release.
Ford already has used wheat straw as a filler in door-trim bins; and, the carmaker uses a soybean oil-based urethane foam blend in seats and a castor-oil blend for instrument panels.
Scotts Miracle-Gro, based in Marysville, Ohio, uses coconut husks' fibers as a carrier in soil and grass-seed products. The fiber holds more water in the potting-soil mix than soil alone, allowing gardeners better water-release control in their plants.
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 also would provide a more natural look to reinforced parts than traditional fillers, Ford said.