Here’s an interesting switcheroo when it comes to the materials used to construct light trucks these days.
Motor Co. recently announced that it’ll use a resin crafted from rice hulls – a usually discarded byproduct of plain old rice grain – to reinforce the plastic coating shielding the electrical harnesses within its 2014 model F-150 pickup.
John Viera, Ford’s global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, noted that the OEM needs at least 45,000 pounds of hulls in the first year to accomplish this material changeup and will be sourcing those hulls from farms in Arkansas to replace a talc-based reinforcement made from a polypropylene composite.
[In fact, the OEM is working with everything from soybeans to "retired" paper currency in its effort to boost recycled material content in its vehicles, as the video from Ford's Plastics and Biomaterials team below illustrates.]
David Preston, director of business development for Ford supplier RheTech, based in WI, said his firm is making the rice hull-based material for the OEM and said it took a total of three years of thorough testing before it became approved for use.
Indeed, Carrie Majeske, Ford’s product sustainability manager, stressed that is why even as the OEM’s researchers constantly searching for all sorts of sustainable materials that can feasibly be used to build a wide range of vehicles – including light trucks like the F-150 – finding a source of material represents only the very beginning of the process.
“Before making it to production, components made from recycled content must perform as well or better than comparable virgin-grade material,” she pointed out, noting that engineers at Ford Materials Engineering, Testing and Standards in Dearborn, MI, in conjunction with RheTech, conducted joint testing of the rice hull material, examining everything from smell and appearance to functionality and flammability.
[On a related tangent, check out the story below about Tony Roko, a safety painter, who learned to use “repurposed industrial materials” not only to create murals that beautify Ford's plants and factories but to create commercial art and help teach art to inner city kids as well.]
Yet rice hulls aren’t the only recycled or organic-based material Ford is using within its F-150 line. Here are some of the others:
And I’ll wager using such recycled materials will save the OEM a pretty penny in the long run, too. That analysis, though, will have to wait for another day.