Stemergy: Renewable Fibre Technology

Ford's wheat ride - Eco-friendly Ford Flex raised on Ontario

12 November 2009

From the faculty to the farm to the Ford Flex.

Research at the University of Waterloo has led four southern Ontario farmers to send straw from soft, white winter wheat to an auto parts plant in Ohio for plastic production that is ending up as third-row storage bins in the Flex crossover vehicle in Oakville.

In an industry that is quickly developing and manufacturing so-called green interiors, Ford says it is the world's first automaker to develop and use straw for plastic in a vehicle.

Ellen Lee, a technical expert in plastic research at Ford, said the biomaterial is stiffer, lighter and more environmentally friendly than other substances.

"It has a lot of potential for other auto applications in the interior, exterior and underbody," Lee added in an interview. "There's nothing overly magical about using natural fibre in composites. In this case, it has really good properties."

Ford is considering use of the material in centre console bins and trays, interior air registers, door trim panel components and armrest liners.

The idea originated with researchers at the University of Waterloo in 2004, who engaged supplier A. Schulman to develop and perfect a lab formula for the biomaterial for use in auto parts so it met industry standards for thermal expansion, degradation, rigidity and moisture absorption. They pitched their combination of straw and plastic to Ford about two years ago.

The work is part of the Ontario government's BioCar initiative, a multi-school effort that includes Waterloo, the University of Guelph, University of Toronto and University of Windsor.

BioCar is a partnership between the auto industry and public entities working to speed up the use of biomass in vehicle materials.

It is part of a major Ontario government initiative in recent years to make the province an international leader in auto research and innovation.

Lee said the switch to the new composite material reduces dependence on petroleum, lowers energy use, cuts carbon dioxide and cuts waste from discarded straw.

She also noted that use of the straw does not jeopardize wheat as an essential food source.

Ford already uses soy-based polyurethane seat cushions, recycled yarns for seat fabrics and recycled resins for underbodies such as cam covers on the Escape engine

Source: http://www.thestar.com

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Stemergy bio-fiber is focused on producing and supplying renewable bio-fibres - derived from annual stem fiber plants such as flax and hemp - to the expanding global bio-fiber marketplace.