Ford Looks to Old Money for New Car Parts

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Each 2012 Ford Focus electric contains approximately 22 post-consumer recycled plastic bottles in its seat fabric. Could interior parts made from money be next on the horizon? Photo: Ford Motor Company

Did you know that 3.6 million pounds of retired U.S. currency is shredded every year? Typically, shredded cash is burned or compressed into bricks and sent to a landfill. But Ford has other plans for the Treasury Department’s throw-aways; using them to create cutting-edge car parts for its new vehicles.

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Every Ford vehicle produced in North America now contains seat cushions filled with soybean-based foam. Photo: Mary Mazzoni, Earth911

As part of an ongoing effort to find sustainable materials to replace petroleum-based parts, the American auto giant is researching ways to use discarded dollar bills to reinforce or replace plastic – in the same way it already uses plant-based materials like soy.

“Although it sounds cute to use currency, we’re serious about reinforcing plastics with it and using it for interior trim,” Ford sustainable materials guru Debbie Mielewski told Earth911.

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Ford researchers are currently testing plastic components reinforced with retired banknotes, which are made up of linen and cotton fibers. The process presents an opportunity to reduce the use of plastic and eliminate the need for glass fibers in plastic reinforcement, Mielewski said.

Plastics reinforced with shredded cash must pass a series of requirements for performance and durability before being put into production, so it may be several years before we see currency-based components hit the market.

Plastics reinforced with other uncommon feedstock, including wheat straw (a waste product of wheat production) and kenaf (a tropical plant in the cotton family), have already found their way into Ford vehicles. The automaker has also incorporated seat cushions filled with soy-based foam into all of its vehicles produced in North America, saving Ford an estimated 5 million pounds of petroleum annually, Mielewski said.

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Plastics reinforced with kenaf, a tropical plant in the cotton family, are used in several Ford vehicle components – including this battery tray. Photo: Mary Mazzoni, Earth911

While the idea of simply “using less plastic” in vehicle components may not sound groundbreaking, the environmental impact is significant – especially for an automaker that sold more than 2 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, Ford researchers said.

“On an average car we use about 300 pounds of plastic,” Angela Harris, Ford biomaterials research engineer, told Earth911. “So, there are a lot of opportunities there to increase the overall bio content and recycled content. We have accomplished a lot, but we’re going to keep it going.”

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As a result of sustainable materials research, Ford has also added gaskets made from recycled tires and sound absorption material made from upcycled blue jeans to its recycled materials repertoire.

Additionally, the automaker plans to divert more than 2 million plastic bottles from landfills this year by using REPREVE®-branded recycled fiber in the seat fabric of the 2012 Ford Focus Electric and 2013 Ford Fusion.

Each Focus Electric contains about 22 recycled bottles in its seat cushions, while the Ford Escape incorporates around 25 post-consumer bottles in its floor carpeting, Mielewski said.

Learn More: Ford’s New Cars Cut Water Use, Recycle Bottles

Editor’s Note: Mary Mazzoni was invited by Ford to attend the Go Further with Ford Conference. Her travel, hotel, meals and experiences were covered by the conference. Neither Mary Mazzoni nor any other representative of Earth911 was asked or required to write about the experience.