Plant a seed, grow a future car part

Ford oval badge on red car hood

Recently I ate a catered lunch heavily weighted with grains, nuts, soybeans and tofu off of a bamboo plate with utensils made from some sort of recycled composite material.

It wasn't the ideal meal for a meat-and-potatoes guy.

But the real cause of my suffering was a presentation on Ford's sustainable materials strategy.

Or as I affectionately think of it: how to use stuff you would normally eat or throw away to build a car.

I am not going to launch into my thoughts about using foodstuffs in a world with as many as 1 billion starving people as materials to build or fuel our cars. Don't get me started on corn ethanol, or this will be just the first of a 10-part diatribe.

Ford's position is that plants are a renewable resource for building cars because we can always grow more.

On the face of it, this makes sense, and I'll leave it at that.

Ford has a laboratory brimming with eggheads who are tasked with finding ways to use various recycled and renewable material in its vehicles.

You might be surprised, as I was, to learn that if you own a recent vintage Ford you are sitting on seats and resting your head against headrests covered with foam made from soybeans.

A growing number of plastic parts, such as storage bins and door panels, are reinforced with wheat straw, reducing the amount of actual plastic required.

A key focus of researchers is to figure out a way to use sugars from corn, beets and sugar cane to make biodegradable plastic parts.

All of this is directed at reducing the amount of oil consumed in making car parts.

Discovering more ways to use recycled materials in cars is another of these researchers' mandates.

Currently, a wide range of Ford parts use recycled materials, such as carpets, replacement bumpers, insulation, seat fabrics, roof linings, air cleaner assemblies and so forth.

They've even figured out how to use old nylon carpet to make the resin for cylinder-head covers.

Maximizing the amount of recycled materials in a car is smart and well worth the effort, in my book.

I give Ford unqualified kudos for those achievements.

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