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Pulp Function: Ford And Weyerhaeuser Collaborate To Develop Automotive Applications Using Natural Fiber Materials

DEARBORN, Mich., Sept. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- 
  • Ford's investigation into the use of tree fibers called cellulose in plastic composites has shown using the fiber in automotive applications could significantly reduce CO 2 emissions and weight, while speeding processing time by as much as 40 percent
  • Ford has worked with Weyerhaeuser – one of the largest forest products companies in the world – to prove out a more sustainable plastic composite material for future Ford vehicle components
  • Ford already uses a variety of sustainable materials throughout its lineup, including soybean-based cushions and head restraints that save about 5 million pounds of petroleum annually

Cellulose joins the growing list of sustainable materials originating from unlikely sources that could soon be used in Ford vehicle components and help further reduce the automaker's reliance on traditional content such as fiberglass and petroleum.

The Ford biomaterials research team has been working with forest products leader Weyerhaeuser (NYSE: WY) to investigate the use of a plastic composite material utilizing cellulose fibers from trees in place of fiberglass or mineral reinforcements. 

Because the cellulose fibers in this new composite come from sustainably grown and harvested trees and related byproducts, such as chips, the environmental impact of building cars could be lessened. Specifically, replacing fiberglass, minerals and/or petroleum with a natural, plant-based material can sequester CO 2 and ultimately lead to a smaller carbon footprint, among other benefits.

"Our responsibility to the customer is to increase our use of more sustainable materials in the right applications that benefit both the environment and product performance," said John Viera, Ford global director of Sustainability and Environmental matters.

Ford's research has found that Weyerhaeuser's cellulose-based plastic composite materials meet the automaker's stringent requirements for stiffness, durability and temperature resistance. Further, components weigh about 10 percent less and can be produced 20 to 40 percent faster and with less energy when made with cellulose-based materials compared with fiberglass-based materials. These weight and process savings can enable equivalent or reduced component costs.

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