The Ford biomaterials research team has been working with forest products Weyerhaeuser to investigate the use of a plastic composite material utilising cellulose fibers from trees in place of fibreglass or mineral reinforcements.
Because the cellulose fibres in this new composite come from sustainably grown and harvested trees and related byproducts, such as chips, the environmental impact of building cars could be lessened. Specifically, replacing fibreglass, minerals and/or petroleum with a natural, plant-based material can sequester CO2 and ultimately lead to a smaller carbon footprint, among other benefits.
Ford’s research has found that Weyerhaeuser’s cellulose-based plastic composite materials meet the automaker’s requirements for stiffness, durability and temperature resistance. The components also weigh about 10% less and can be produced 20 to 40 percent faster and with less energy when made with cellulose-based materials compared with fibreglass-based materials. These weight and process savings can enable equivalent or reduced component costs.
Three years ago, Ford began working with Weyerhaeuser to evaluate the use of a cellulose-based plastic composite material for potential use in vehicle components. Several prototype vehicle components were created from the cellulose-based material and put through a battery of tests.
Dr. Ellen Lee, Ford’s plastic research technical expert said
We found that working collaboratively at an early stage has accelerated the development of a material that has a high thermal stability, doesn’t discolour and doesn’t have an odour, that’s important because it opens the door for use of the material in a wide range of applications that could eventually add up to significant environmental benefits across our product line.
Weyerhaeuser oversees more than 20 million acres of sustainably managed and third-party certified forestland around the world and plants more trees than they harvest.[connections id=’167,166′]