Ford Motor Co. is working with Houston-based Rice University to reclaim plastic waste from automotive shredder residue and use it in enhanced auto foam programs.
A team led by James Tour at Rice developed a flash Joule heating process to turn plastic parts from end-of-life vehicles into graphene.
Ford then used the graphene for its graphene-infused polyurethane foam for use in new cars. This enhanced foam has been used in Ford vehicles since 2018 because of its noise reduction and heat resistance properties.
The amount of plastic used in vehicles is increasing as manufacturers chase weight reduction and improved fuel economy, but this is posing greater problems for the manufacturers in the light of end-of-life regulations for vehicles.
"In Europe, cars come back to the manufacturer, which is allowed to landfill only 5 percent of a vehicle," Tour said. "That means they must recycle 95 percent, and it’s just overwhelming to them."
Much of the mixed plastic waste will be incinerated, according to Deborah Mielewski, a technical fellow at Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford and an author on a paper about the program. With the U.S. shredding more than 10 million vehicles a year, this makes for a large amount of waste.
"We have hundreds of different combinations of plastic resin, filler and reinforcements on vehicles that make the materials impossible to separate," she said.