Detroit — Ford Motor Co. and McDonald's Corp. have brewed up a way to make some vehicle parts lighter and more sustainable while reducing waste.
The automaker is using coffee-bean remnants from McDonald's to make headlight housings for the Lincoln Continental.
To do so, the coffee chaff — the dried skin of coffee beans that naturally comes off during the roasting process — is heated to high temperatures under low oxygen. It is then mixed with plastic and other additives to create pellets, which are molded into vehicle parts.
Ford said the composite material meets quality specifications for other interior and under-the-hood parts in addition to headlight housings. Components made from the material are about 20 percent lighter and use up to 25 percent less energy during the molding process, the automaker said.
Ford plans to use the composite material in a number of vehicles, including the Mustang. McDonald's said it would donate "a significant portion" of its North American coffee chaff to the cause.
"McDonald's commitment to innovation was impressive to us and matched our own forward-thinking vision and action for sustainability," Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader of Ford's sustainability and emerging materials research team, said in a statement. "This has been a priority for Ford for over 20 years, and this is an example of jump-starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products."
The McDonald's project also involves Plymouth, Mich.-based Varroc Lighting Systems Inc., which supplies the headlamps, and Canadian biocomposite materials firm Competitive Green Technologies, which processes the coffee chaff.
Ford has a long history of using sustainable materials to build vehicles. Company founder Henry Ford used soybean-based plastics in his products. In 2007, the automaker used soybean-based polyurethane foam for seats and headliners. A year later, in 2008, Ford began using recycled plastic bottles for carpets, wheel liners and fabrics.
And in recent years, Mielewski's team has used agave plants, dandelions, tomato skins and shredded money, among other materials. Many of the materials come from partners including Jose Cuervo, Coca-Cola Co. and Nike Inc.
Staff reporter Audrey LaForest contributed to this report.