DEARBORN, MI-Ford and BASF have teamed up to develop a sustainable, plant-sourced castor oil-based foam product for the 2012 Ford Focus instrument panel.

The castor oil blend is more durable, and minimizes component stretch to help optimize airbag deployment.

The unique foam improves the Focus look and feel with soft-touch texture, and takes less time to produce, which increases Ford's manufacturing productivity

"Working with BASF, we now can offer our North American customers the new Ford Focus with the industry's first seamless soft-touch instrument panel that's stronger, better-looking and better on the environment," says Bari Brown, Ford advanced product development engineer. "Castor oil from plants helps deliver sustainable interior foam that reduces petroleum use while improving vehicle craftsmanship."

Castor oil is derived from the Ricinus Communis flowering spurge plant, which has widespread growth throughout tropical regions. The plant's oil presents a sustainable interior foam solution that does not compete with food sources. Employing more than 10% renewable content, the resulting foam product passes all Ford performance requirements for interior components.

The new castor oil-based foam is significantly more durable than the previously used material, with a 36% better tensile strength, a measure of the foam's ability to hold its shape over time and use. Tear strength also is improved by 5% while elongation-stretch under temperature or impact stress-is reduced by almost 12%.

From a customer's perspective, the Focus instrument panel is softer to the touch; it seamlessly contains the first-row passenger airbag, for a more appealing interior.

Productivity is improved and the manufacturing process is simplified by the 43% reduction in time for the castor oil-based foam product to cure. Scrap from this foam product is reduced due to improved flow and processing characteristics.

"BASF is committed to the development of sustainable solutions for the automotive industry," says Joel Johnson, vice president, BASF Polyurethane Systems. "Working with Ford on the first castor oil-based foam is an excellent example of two industry leaders focused on speed-to-market made possible by collaboration. Finding a sustainable product that saves more than 5,000 barrels of oil for every 300,000 Ford Focus models produced in North America is a very exciting solution for all of us."

Ford says that it plans to incorporate castor oil-based foam solutions across more products in its full-line global portfolio.

Ford has concentrated on increasing the use of non-metal recycled and bio-based materials in the past, such as soy foam seat cushions and gaskets, wheat straw-filled storage bins, recycled resins for underbody systems, recycled yarns on seat covers and natural-fiber plastic for interior components.