NEW YORK, NY-Ford and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. are researching the use of coconut fiber reinforcement for molded plastic parts to reduce the use of petroleum and make the parts lighter and more natural-looking.
The coconut coir, or husks, are a waste stream from Scotts' soil and grass seed products. The team is investigating their use as a renewable feedstock for Ford's vehicles.
Over the past several years, Ford has concentrated on increasing the use of nonmetal recycled and bio-based materials to reduce its carbon footprint. Materials already in use include soy foam seat cushions and head restraints, wheat straw-filled plastic bins and castor oil foam in instrument panels.
"This is a win-win situation. We're taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles," says Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for Plastics Research at Ford. "We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy."
Coconut coir is a natural fiber from the husk of a coconut. ScottsMiracle-Gro uses the material as a carrier for its soils and grass seed products, including Scotts Turf Builder EZ Seed and Miracle-Gro Expand 'n Gro Concentrated Planting Mix. Both products use the coir's natural fibers to hold 50% more water than basic potting soil and release it as plants need it.
Once the coconut coir comes to Ford, researchers combine it with plastic to deliver additional reinforcement to the part while eliminating the need for some petroleum. Along with making use of a renewable resource, the new part would be lighter in weight. The natural long fibers also are visible in the plastic and offer a more natural look than typical materials.
In the interior, the material could be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates. It could also potentially be used on underbody and exterior trim.
Ford is currently testing the material's properties to ensure it passes all of the company's durability tests. Coconut coir is very difficult to burn, and Ford is researching whether it has natural flame-retardant properties.