Driving Today

Coconuts for Your Car

Ford and Scotts Miracle-Gro investigate the benefits of using coconut fibers in cars.

Coconuts are gaining new respect. Not only do coconut derivatives grace pies, cakes and, of course, tropical drinks, but Ford Motor Company is hoping to add cars to that list. Its engineers are working with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. to research how coconut coir might be used as a plastic reinforcement.

“We’re taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles,” says Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for plastics research at Ford. “We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy.”

As you’re undoubtedly aware, coconut coir is a natural fiber from the husk of a coconut. Scotts Miracle-Gro uses the material as a carrier for its soils and grass seed products. Several of its products use the coir’s natural fibers to hold 50 percent more water than basic potting soil, helping homeowners save water. Scotts Miracle-Gro uses more than 70 million pounds of coir a year in their consumer products, but there is leftover coir … and it’s no good for making pina coladas.

Ford is combining the unused coir with plastic to deliver additional reinforcement to parts, eliminating the need for some petroleum. The long, natural fibers are visible in the plastic and offer a more natural look than typical materials. Lighter in weight than conventional plastics, the coir-reinforced plastic could be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates. It could also potentially be used for underbody and exterior trim. Ford is currently testing the material’s properties to ensure that it passes all of the company’s durability tests. Coconut coir is very difficult to burn, so Ford is researching whether it has natural flame-retardant properties.

 

 


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