By Alex Perdikis
Why this information isn’t all over the news is nothing short of unbelievable. For over a decade, Ford Motor Company has not only begun to transfigure its image into one that glistens with an eco-friendly green, but the company has also been transforming its real-world business into a tangible eco-friendly innovator. While lip service to the ethics of green thinking is plentiful in automobile manufacturing (and other industries), Ford talks the talk and walks the walk.
Ford’s initiatives and their concrete successes at going green are so comprehensive, it would be overwhelming (albeit interesting) to cover all of them here. Let’s consider three of the more unusual ways Ford is creating an environmentally sound auto manufacturing business.
Recycling Aluminum Taken To A Whole New Level
Remember how, as kids, we recycled soda cans for change to spend on candy? You probably never thought a car could be made out of those aluminum cans you collected. That’s the stuff of fiction, right? Well, not exactly. Ford has undertaken massive aluminum recycling initiatives that are producing real cars. OK, maybe the cars aren’t made from soda cans, but Ford’s got a pretty spectacular process nonetheless.
Ford’s F-150 full-size pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the U.S., is an aluminum-bodied car. During the stamping process, which forms the aluminum coil into vehicle panels, 30–40 percent of the metal is turned into scrap. According to Green Car Reports, Ford recycles 20 million pounds of scrap each month using a closed-loop system. This means that the scrap metal left over from the production of the trucks’ body panels is taken from the Dearborn Stamping Plant in Michigan. As Ford describes it, the scrap is returned to the aluminum suppliers to filter out impurities. The molten scrap is then reshaped into aluminum coil. Ultimately, Ford’s loop is closed when the recycled aluminum comes back to the Dearborn Stamping Plant and is used in the production of other F-150 body panels.
What’s the impact? It’s all good, as they say. Green Car Reports indicates that Ford’s recycling process eliminates a startling amount of greenhouse gas emissions connected with the production of aluminum—95 percent! Due to aluminum’s inherent properties, considerably less energy is necessary to recycle scrap than to refine new aluminum. Research done by Automotive Science Group (ASG) found that the 2016 Ford F-150 has the “smallest life-cycle carbon footprint of any full-size truck in the North American market.” ASG awarded Ford’s 2016 F-150 three prestigious honors largely associated with the company’s environmental and socially sustainable practices. The awards testify to the fact that Ford’s definitely walking the eco-friendly walk!
Sleek and Sustainable Plant-Based and Recycled Fabrics
Did you know that Henry Ford himself used plant-based materials—specifically from soybeans—at his company? Now, Ford Motor Company is manifesting the founder’s vision on a large scale in what it aptly calls its “Farm to Car” campaign, discussed previously on our site.
Ford’s research and work inventing socially and environmentally responsible practices for its car fabrics is a vast subject. So, let’s just review one sustainability measure at a glance: plant-based products.
Biomaterials are being integrated into the interior of every Ford vehicle made in North America. The Wall Street Journal interviewed Ford’s senior technical materials sustainability leader, Debbie Mielewski. She’s tasked with replacing the 400 pounds of petroleum-based products in Ford’s vehicles with greener, more sustainable materials. Beginning with the 2007 Mustang, Ford launched its soybean-based foam for back- and headrests as well as seat cushions. Now the foam is in every Ford-made vehicle in North America. Ford has partnered with Jose Cuervo to use its agave fiber waste products to reinforce interior plastics for seat trim and storage bins. Other materials in use or in experimental stages at Ford include tomato fiber, a waste product of Heinz ketchup; cellulose from tree fiber; and out-of-circulation dollar bills.
You don’t have to imagine the benefits of Ford’s environmental feats because they’re real. They include reduced reliance on fossil-based petroleum, reduced CO2 emissions, productive use of waste material that would otherwise rot in landfills, and increasingly sustainable practices that should influence innovation in all industries.
From Fumes to Fuel
Most people couldn’t correctly guess that one of the most expensive components in the production of a vehicle is paint. That’s right—what we normally think of as one of the cheapest ways to update our home interiors costs mega bucks in the auto industry. Given the amount of paint used in Ford plants, consider all the noxious fumes that must come from the solvent-based paints, which contain those unfriendly volatile organic compounds (VOCs). What can be done about it? Ford, in cooperation with Detroit Edison (DTE), has answered that question.
The result of their cooperation was the innovative Fumes-to-Fuel (FTF) system. This system burns paint fumes, destroying virtually all VOCs while producing electricity to power a plant. Since 2005, the full-scale FTF system has been in use in Ford’s Michigan Truck Plant, in Wayne Michigan. According to ReliablePlant, “The program burns one-third of the fumes in one paint booth, yet 45–50 kilowatts of electricity are produced—enough to meet the typical demand of an average suburban block of houses.” The only byproducts of Ford’s Fumes-to-Fuel system are small amounts of water vapor, CO2 and nitrogen oxides. The FTF system is the reason the Environmental Protection Agency awarded Ford the Clean Air Excellence award in 2003.
Even if Ford’s innovations are not well-known by the general public, the company’s products are proving to be socially and environmentally friendly. Hopefully consumers see that Ford isn’t just working to boost its bottom line but also striving to serve the public good.