Ford goes cuckoo for coconuts

Ford and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company are working together to explore the potential of coconut fiber reinforced molded plastic parts to reduce petroleum use while making parts lighter and more natural-looking. Coconut husks, are a waste product from Scotts' soil and grass seed production lines. The team is examining their use as a renewable material for Ford's vehicles.

Ford has been working to increase the use of nonmetal recycled and bio-based materials over the past few years to reduce their carbon footprint. Such materials already include soy in foam seat cushions and head restraints, wheat straw-filled plastic bins and castor oil foam in instrument panels.

Coconut can be found in a variety of products from candies, pies and cakes, to tropical drinks and trail mix. Ford is hoping to add cars to that list in its work with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.

"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," said 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 it as a carrier for its soil and grass seed products, including Scotts Turf Builder EZ Seed and Miracle-Gro Expand 'n Gro Concentrated Planting Mix. Both use the fibers to hold 50 percent more water than basic potting soil, releasing it as plants need it and helping save water.

"ScottsMiracle-Gro uses more than 70 million pounds of coir a year in our consumer products," said Dave Swihart, ScottsMiracle-Gro senior vice president of Global Supply Chain. "Teaming up with Ford to find a high-value use for our leftover coir material is very exciting for us as we continually work to make our products and operations more sustainable."

Once Ford gets the coconut fiber, researchers combine it with plastic to reinforce part while lessening petroleum usage and creating a lighter part. The naturally long fibers are visible in the plastic offering a more natural look. The coconut fibers may be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates. It may also be used on underbody and exterior trim.

Ford is currently testing the material's properties to ensure it passes the company's durability tests. Coconut coir is difficult to burn so Ford is testing it’s flame-retardant properties.

Reduce, reuse and recycle is Ford’s commitment to a global sustainability strategy intended to reduce their environmental footprint and accelerate the development of advanced, fuel-efficient vehicle technology.

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