Ford is turning captured CO2 into plastics and foam for car parts

CO2-based foam from Ford
© Ford Motor Company

In what is said to be a first for automakers, Ford is developing foams and plastics using captured carbon dioxide, which could be integrated into the company's vehicles within five years.

Captured CO2 is one of the feedstocks for Ford's new biomaterials, intended for use in vehicle seats and under the hood applications, adding to the company's stable of renewable and sustainable materials, which already includes products made with soy, tomato peels, wheat straw, coconut fiber, and more. By using foams and plastics with up to 50% CO2-based polyols, this approach to vehicle manufacturing could have the potential to reduce petroleum use by the iconic automaker by more than 600 million pounds per year, and could also influence other manufacturers to follow suit in their operations.

"We’re sequestering CO2 to make things we need to use, just like plants. Except instead of producing complex sugars the way plants do, Ford is testing taking excess carbon dioxide and making durable plastics to use in vehicles. We think it’s pretty sweet."

Since 2013, Ford has been working with some of its suppliers, as well as other companies (and universities), to develop useful applications for captured CO2, and this announcement by the Blue Oval gives some of the credit to "a team of nerd rockstars" that took inspiration from plants to find appropriate uses for excess (waste) carbon dioxide.

One of the companies that Ford has been working with is Novomer, which produces a CO2-based polyol that starts as waste carbon dioxide from manufacturing plants (and which could also be made with CO2 from a variety of other sources).

Aside from the fact that these bio-based foams and plastics require much less petroleum inputs, they are also said to be easily recyclable, which has been an increasingly important attribute for sustainable materials over the last few years.

"It’s really been interesting to try and come up with new ways to solve environmental solutions. What’s really cool is all this technology is enabling solutions that even two or three years ago wasn’t possible." - Bill Ford

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