Posted in | Microscopy

Nanotechnology Approach to Vehicle Development and Design

Ford designers and researchers are taking a total green approach to vehicle development and design, stepping beyond just fuel efficiency and what’s under the hood and incorporating more sustainable materials and processes inside the vehicle, too.

Ford’s award-winning soy-based foam seat cushions and backs, for example, will be on more than 1 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles by the end of this year, leading to a total reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of more than 5 million pounds. Most recently, Ford announced that the all-new 2010 Ford Taurus SHO, Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ will feature sustainable interior materials such as seat fabrics made with varying degrees of post-industrial yarns, suede-like material created from plastic pop bottles, chromium-free leather and engineered ebony wood, all of which reduce waste, energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

To ensure these greener material measures resonate with customers, Ford designers are gaining a deeper understanding of the different levels of green consumerism. Statistics show that one in four adults in the U.S. are living more sustainable lifestyles; interested in companies that are more socially responsible and buying products that are healthier for people and the planet.

Designers also are examining what’s the most expressive way to use these materials in vehicle interiors and how do they best represent the vehicle brand. Customers, for example, expect suede to look and feel like suede even if it’s made from plastic bottles. Interior wood accents, a common luxury-car cue, must exhibit rich colors and textures, whether it’s derived from a natural veneer or a more eco-friendly reconstituted wood veneer.

Ford researchers are challenged with developing alternative interior materials that perform without compromise to functionality or durability, can be manufactured in a more eco-friendly manner, decrease our dependence on foreign oil and are cost effective. No interior application is off limits on the research front, with plastics, rubber, foam, film and fabric under the microscope. No material is discarded as a possible substitute, either, from recycled items such as old blue jeans and plastic pop bottles to bio-based sources such as hemp, wheat straw, corn and soybeans.

The goal is to provide the company with as many sustainable material choices as possible for interior components front to back, from seat cushions and fabrics to underbody and impact shields, headliners, trunk liners and more.

On the Horizon

Ford’s holistic and sky’s-the-limit approach to using more sustainable materials means that researchers are hard at work developing new implementations of other renewable materials to help reduce resource burdens, waste and emissions as well as help reduce the weight of vehicles and improve their fuel economy. Applications on the horizon include:

  • Corn-based, compostable and natural-fiber filled plastics. Under development are, for example, natural-fiber composites as a potential substitute for the glass fibers traditionally used in plastic automotive components to make them stronger.
  • Polylactic acid (PLA), a biodegradable plastic derived completely from the sugars in corn, sugarbeets, sugarcane, switch grass and other plants. Plastic parts made from PLA can biodegrade after their life cycle in 90 to 120 days versus up to 1,000 years in a landfill for a traditional petroleum-based plastic.
  • The replacement of petroleum-based fillers with soy protein fillers in rubber for items such as door seals, floor mats, gaskets and splash shields.
  • Experimentation with nanotechnology, including nano-filler materials in metal and plastic composites to reduce weight while increasing strength.

To read the full press release, click here.

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