Ford says it plans to make extensive use of a cellulose fiber reinforcement composite that has been newly developed by forest products giant Weyerhaeuser and its partners. The automaker announced today that the new proprietary, patent-pending composites meet its requirements for stiffness, durability and temperature resistance. The parts made with the composite material weigh about 10% less and can be produced 20% to 40% faster and with less energy compared with fiberglass-reinforced compounds.
A press release issued by Ford makes this statement: “…the cellulose-based plastic composite material could be as important to Ford as soybeans have become. Ford uses soybean-based cushions in all of its North American vehicles such as the all-new Fusion, saving about 5 million pounds of petroleum annually.” News of the wood-based composite was reported first, and exclusively, by Plastics Today two weeks ago.
“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 Evironmental matters. Prototype armrests were tested as potential components that could made with the cellulose-based material. And Ford also made this interesting statement in its press release: “Not only can the cellulose material be used in interior applications, but the high level of performance provided by the cellulose fibers also makes it a good candidate for exterior and under-the-hood applications as well.”
Dr. Ellen Lee, Ford’s plastic research technical expert, led the testing on the composite. “We found that working collaboratively at an early stage has accelerated the development of a material that has a high thermal stability, doesn’t discolor and doesn’t have an odor,” said Lee. “That’s important because it opens the door for use of the material in a wide range of applications that could eventually add up to significant environmental benefits across our product line.”
Weyerhaeuser said the new composites, trademarked “Thrive”, will initially be used in household goods and automotive parts. Application targets include office furniture, kitchenware, small and large consumer appliances, and other industrial goods. They are currently available in polypropylene compounds with both high and low melt flow indices. Weyerhaeuser plans to expand the line to a range of hydrocarbon and nonhydrocarbon (bioplastic) polymers.
“Thrive products readily absorb dyes and offer excellent flowability and thin-section fill, providing manufacturers with considerable design flexibility,” said Don Atkinson, vice president, marketing and new products for Weyerhaeuser’s Cellulose Fibers business. “In addition, Thrive composites are produced using a proprietary process that allows control of the dispersion of cellulose fibers within the polymer matrix. This allows for a smooth surface finish, which opens up new opportunities for the use of natural fibers in composite plastics. Conversely, if manufacturers prefer the fibers to be visible, they have that option as well.”