Reducing Petroleum Use by Using Wheat

By Ford Social Member

Small changes can make a huge difference. Consider a plastic storage bin. By using wheat straw-reinforced plastic rather than 100-percent traditional petroleum products, it is estimated that petroleum use will be reduced by approximately 20,000 and CO2 emissions will be reduced by approximately 30,000 pounds per year.

The first Ford application of the natural fiber-based plastic that contains 20 percent wheat straw bio-filler is on the 2010 Ford Flex's third-row interior storage bins. Ford is already considering using the environmentally-friendly technology in the construction of center-console bins and trays, interior air registers, door trim panel components and armrest liners.

Ford's sustainable materials portfolio also includes soy-based polyurethane seat cushions, seatbacks and headliners; post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics; and post-consumer recycled resins for underbody systems, such as the new engine cam cover on the 2010 Ford Escape's 3.0-liter V6.

"Ford continues to explore and open doors for greener materials that positively impact the environment and work well for customers," said Patrick Berryman, a Ford engineering manager who develops interior trim. "We seized the opportunity to add wheat straw-reinforced plastic as our next sustainable material on the production line, and the storage bin for the Flex was the ideal first application."

Collaborative effort

Ford researchers were approached with the wheat straw-based plastics formulation by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, as part of the Ontario BioCar Initiative – a multi-university effort between Waterloo, the University of Guelph, University of Toronto and University of Windsor. Ford works closely with the Ontario government-funded project, which is seeking to advance the use of more plant-based materials in the auto and agricultural industries.

The University of Waterloo already had been working with plastics supplier A. Schulman of Akron, Ohio, to perfect the lab formula for use in auto parts, ensuring the material is not only odorless, but also meets industry standards for thermal expansion and degradation, rigidity, moisture absorption and fogging. Less than 18 months after the initial presentation was made to Ford's Biomaterials Group, the wheat straw-reinforced plastic was refined and approved for Flex, which is produced at Ford's Oakville (Ontario) Assembly Complex.

The wheat straw-reinforced resin is the BioCar Initiative's first production-ready application. It demonstrates better dimensional integrity than a non-reinforced plastic and weighs up to 10 percent less than a plastic reinforced with talc or glass.

"Without Ford's driving force and contribution, we would have never been able to move from academia to industry in such lightning speed," said Leonardo Simon, associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo. "Seeing this go into production on the Ford Flex is a major accomplishment for the University of Waterloo and the BioCar Initiative."

An interior storage bin may seem like a small start, but it opens the door for more applications, said Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert, Ford's Plastics Research.

"We see a great deal of potential for other applications since wheat straw has good mechanical properties, can meet our performance and durability specifications, and can further reduce our carbon footprint – all without compromise to the customer."

Abundant waste material put to good use

The case for using wheat straw to reinforce plastics in higher-volume, higher-content applications is strong across many industries. In Ontario alone, where Flex is built, more than 28,000 farmers grow wheat, along with corn and soybeans. Typically, wheat straw, the byproduct of growing and processing wheat, is discarded. Ontario, for example, has some 30 million metric tons of available wheat straw waste at any given time.

"Wheat is everywhere and the straw is in excess," said Lee. "We have found a practical automotive usage for a renewable resource that helps reduce our dependence on petroleum, uses less energy to manufacture, and reduces our carbon footprint. More importantly, it doesn't jeopardize an essential food source."

To date, Ford and its suppliers are working with four southern Ontario farmers for the wheat straw needed to mold the Flex's two interior storage bins.

History in the making

Ford's interest in wheat dates back to the 1920s, when company founder Henry Ford developed a product called Fordite – a mixture of wheat straw, rubber, sulphur, silica and other ingredients – that was used to make steering wheels for Ford cars and trucks. Much of the straw used to produce Fordite came from Henry Ford's Dearborn-area farm.

The company's new-age application for wheat straw joins other bio-based, reclaimed and recycled materials that are in Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles today, including:
  • Soy-based polyurethane foams on the seat cushions and seatbacks, now in production on the Ford Mustang, Expedition, F-150, Focus, Escape, Escape Hybrid, Mercury Mariner and Lincoln Navigator and Lincoln MKS. More than 1.5 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles on the road today have soy-foam seats, which equates to a reduction in petroleum oil usage of approximately 1.5 million pounds. This year, Ford has expanded its soy-foam portfolio to include the industry's first application of a soy-foam headliner on the 2010 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner for a 25 percent weight savings over a traditional glass-mat headliner.

  • Underbody systems, such as aerodynamic shields, splash shields and radiator air deflector shields, made from post-consumer recycled resins such as detergent bottles, tires and battery casings, diverting 25-30 million pounds of plastic from landfills. The newest addition is the engine cam cover on the 3.0-liter V6 2010 Ford Escape.

  • 100 percent post-industrial recycled yarns in seat fabrics on vehicles such as the Ford Escape. The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid feature 85 percent post-industrial yarns and 15 percent solution-dyed yarns. The 100 percent usage represents a 64 percent reduction in energy consumption and a 60 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.

  • Repurposed nylon carpeting made into nylon resin and molded into cylinder head covers for Ford's 3.0L Duratec engine. The industry's first eco-friendly cylinder head cover is currently found in the 2010 Ford Fusion and Escape vehicles.

About the Ontario BioCar Initiative

The Ontario BioCar Initiative represents a partnership between the automotive industry and the public sector, aimed at accelerating the use of biomass in automotive materials. For additional information, please visit www.bioproductsatguelph.ca/biocar/ .
cwm 05/08/2010
Checked the price of corn lately? It is less then half of what it was two years ago but has the price of your grocery store bought food been cut in half? I DID NOT THINK SO!
wfr 05/05/2010
Rob, I have a friend with 650,000 on his 72 Chevy. Good luck on 500 miles on a VW. I owned a beatle once that required engine replacement every 50,000 miles or so. These VWs along with the Japanese auto industry have been subsidised by their country and ours since their inception. By the way Ford for the first quarter outsold VW in their own backyard, no wonder Japan wont let our factories in ,much less subsidise their being here like some of our US states do. God Bless America.
Dulie 05/03/2010
Gluten is a protein contained in the seed. You may have a small amount of the protein dusted onto the fiber, but should not cause any trouble since the gluten affects the digestive tract. Celiac is an autoimmune disease much like Krohn's and Rhumetoid arthritis...the body attacks itself.

Also, the fiber should be entombed into the plastic and should not be able to reach the air at all for fear of having it absorb water and rot.
Dulie 05/03/2010
True, straw is a bi-product, but it is also fertilizer too. Farmers who leave it lay will incorporate it into the ground when they do fall field preparation. Leaving the straw through the winter cuts down on spring melt erosion, and incorporates more nitrogen into the soil and is a great way to make the soil hold more water to make it more drought resistant.

Though, there are farmers who would rather pick up all the straw, even if they're not using it for animal bedding. I do like the Ford is incorporating a natural fiber into reinforcement...now to use that for leverage to get hemp legalized...that would save so much more.

Plus, hemp seed contains the last amino acids that are needed to allow those who wish to be vegan (not myself) able to continue to grow properly and not be malnourished.
RAND 04/28/2010
oh boy you got it RIGHT. also see Aaron Garcia comments Great Minds think alike
rob 03/22/2010
My VW tdi gets 50 MPG will get half a million miles before it needs replaced and only needs one battery. I'll never buy US or japanese cars again.
Time to Think 03/10/2010
Very true, Bob! They are talking about using what's left after the wheat is separated from the rest of the plant - they are only using the un-edible parts. This is different than the greenwashed b.s. called the corn industry, where they are actually using the edible part, the corn kernels, for uses other than food (and very energy-intensive and brutal on the soil).
Time to Think 03/10/2010
As far as the plastics go, I'm fairly certain that there would be no allergy issue, since the fibers would be completely embedded/encapsulated by the resin binder - meaning, no part of the plant would be exposed to air in the final product.

Headliners? Who knows.
Bob 02/24/2010
Whoa Horse!!!! Straw is a by-product of wheat production, not used for feed. It is returned to the land with manure after used for animal bedding or just scattered on the field by the combining process. Tthis is not the same as the use of the seed (corn) to make a ethanol by using additional energy.
Aaron Garcia 02/17/2010
This isn't new technology, Henry Ford himself saw hemp as a source to make composite material such as what they are doing now with wheat. He wanted his automobiles to run on hemp seed oil as he saw the potential for this amazing plant. I challange anyone to look it up. Legalize hemp and put it to good use! If it helps save the planet, then doesn't it make sense to legalize it.
J.R.F 02/07/2010
Ford was built first for a reason signifigantly look whos still making the REAL American vehicle. All that aside we need to look deeper and see that they have not used our money to "bail" and with that said they have room to speak. hopefully they are around untill my kids are old enough to drive one and so forth. Keep going green and building the best! Thanks for being true. ps I decided start my own bio diesel plant in Gouverneur N.Y near the canadian border if i find a way to get started so there should be one more farmer out there building tommorows future today.
adam 01/27/2010
very true! toyota sucks, lets stick to American vehicles. Good call, Ford!
Erik 01/05/2010
I would have to agree and disagree. Some of our food supplies are rather abundant. Especially wheat. Considering it's also subsidised by the US goverment, meaning they produce more than is actually needed at a low cost to the consumer, I'd have to say proper management of these renewable resources would be best. Top U.S. exports include, (Sadly) weapons, and food. So why not giver farmers a crop that makes them more money instead of what some have done and thankfully not too many, grow marijuana or other crops used for drugs to make ends meet. Hemp is an excellent example of what can be grown for many uses. I hear it grows like weed. LOL!
Peter Barthelson 01/04/2010
There is an abundance of plant material, most of which is tilled in or thrown away. Much of it is useful. Any time we build a lot of everything, we should try to incorporate "waste products" even if they are neutral to the quality of the product. In this example we replace an oil based product in part by cellulose. Cellulose is cheap and green. The mixture of straw or hemp or many other plants to offset oil based resins or plastics is a no brainer. If done right, it improves the product, lowers cost and vastly reduces the carbon footprint.
BBW 01/03/2010
Soy & Wheat are common allergens. I myself have a food and contact allergy to both. Has anyone thought to check if there will be problems for those like me? I have owned Ford trucks most of my adult life but may not be able to purchase any newer model if it is liable to make me sick. Surely there are other sustainable sources for upholstery/headliner materials. ( Hemp, Cotton, Bamboo)
TRS 12/26/2009
Using wheat straw is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
There is a significant segment of the population that has sensitivity to
wheat gluten. Will the wheat-straw plastic used be free of the wheat gluten?
If not, Ford may be exposing these Celiac disease people to what amounts to
a toxic (for them) material.
JP 12/26/2009
This seems to be an example of "Heck" being paved with good intentions. Use of corn as a bi-fuel drove up the cost of food world wide, is wheat next? Energy and bio-products are part of a system, looking at one component of a system is not the total answer. I hope Ford can find other sources that do not compete for food resources.
Dr R K S Rathore 12/22/2009
Necessity is the mother of invention. This is what we really need to save our environment..Well done Ford. Congratulations!
eugene forsyth 12/21/2009
Great: Now we can eat our seats if we get stuck for days or weeks somewhere.
Mike 12/16/2009
Very interesting comment. Especially the part about the batteries.
paul harsch 12/16/2009
Thank you Ford for your efforts at innovation and environmental responsibility. We all benefit and the more you can do in this regard the more drivers you will win over. There is so much more that can be done and wheat straw, soy foam, reused plastics are just the tip of the iceberg and its saving icebergs that this is all about!!! Please continue to do more of the right thing.
Chris Meiners 12/02/2009
The nickel used to make the batteries in a prius comes from a mine in Canada (nickle mining produces acid rain and sulfur). from there, it is shiped via massive freighter to europe to be refined, then to china to be processed and prepped to be put into batteries in Japan, then the car is shipped back to america... and that's JUST for the batteries... by the time the prius has finished preoduction and has arrived at your local dealership, it has suppossedly allready created more pollution than a land rover will after production and with 30,000 on the odometer... top gear tested the car's mpgs against a BMW M3. the test required that the prius be driven 10 laps around an enclosed and controlled track at it's highest speed, and the M3 just had to keep up (not hard). the prius was recorded at 17 miles to the gallon, and the M3 was 19. verdict: it's not what you drive, it's how you drive... another hint... you get the best fuel economy when youy are in your highest/fastest gear or overdrive in most cases (not highest speed). then from there, you have to drive with as low of rpms as possible, which means that you must drive right at the spped in which your transmission shifts into it's final gear. for my 89 s-10 blazer with a 4.3L V6, that speed is 45 miles per hour. i had recently driven to a town 30 miles away (60 miles round trip) and i was able to get 33 miles per gallon on that trip.... in a 20 year old large V6 SUV.... driving 45 miles per hour. with the way most peole drive, they usually only get 35 miles per gallon out of their prius... granted they get less with other vehicles that should get more... if you really want to save money on gas and help the environment... keep driving the same vehicle you have now and change how you drive it... even if it spews out black smoke, i guarentee that it makes less polution than building an entirely new car would....
john taylor 11/27/2009
Totally right about Ford .
David Callaway 11/24/2009
It's time for FOMOCO to take a look back in it's own history and rediscover it's own past, i.e.:
Henery's hemp car
Leonard Woodward 11/21/2009
My first Ford automobile purchase, a 2005 Expedition, has impressed me greatly in all aspects. Although the quality of ride does not compare with my previous Buicks and Cadillacs, I must give the Ford SUV a very good rating. The fact that the Ford Motor Co. did not participate in the government 'bailout' and is, in fact, apparently doing very well, says much for Ford management and initiative.
SteveBott 11/20/2009
I have been a Ford owner for years, I am empressed with the avance that Ford has always put forth with theirs cars & trucks. I am empressed that they are moving ahead with out the goverment help. We need to keep the american people working here in the UNITED STATES instead of farming out our work to other countries. THANKS TO THE FORD FOE BELEIVING IN AMERICA, WE HAVE A GREAT NATION.
Frank Martin 11/17/2009
The only true enviromentally freindly built automobile, Is the automobile that is NEVER built.
Nelda Carinder 11/14/2009
To date I have not been a Ford booster and was seriously considering my next car would be a Prius. I will hold off and look long and hard at what Ford is doing. I sincerely appreciate the fact Ford did not participate in the DISASTROUS Stimulus package. Keep moving forward. We need American strength!
Reducing Petroleum Use by Using Wheat
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