Ford uses wheat reinforced plastic

Ford Motor Company, working with researchers and suppliers, is the first automaker to develop and use wheat straw-reinforced plastic in a vehicle.

The first application of the natural fiber-based plastic that contains 20 percent wheat straw bio-filler is on the 2010 Ford Flex’s third-row interior storage bins. This application alone reduces petroleum usage by some 20,000 pounds per year, reduces CO2 emissions by 30,000 pounds per year, and represents a smart use of wheat straw, the waste byproduct of wheat.

Ford researchers were approached by the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The University already had been working with plastics supplier A. Schulman of Akron, Ohio to perfect the lab formula for use in auto parts, ensuring the material is not only odorless, but also meets industry standards. Less than 18 months after the initial presentation was made to Ford’s Biomaterials Group, the wheat straw-reinforced plastic was refined and approved for the Flex.

The wheat straw-reinforced resin demonstrates better dimensional integrity than a non-reinforced plastic and weighs up to 10 percent less than a plastic reinforced with talc or glass.

Already under consideration by the Ford team: center console bins and trays, interior air register and door trim panel components, and armrest liners.

To date, Ford and its suppliers are working with four southern Ontario farmers for the wheat straw needed to mold the Flex’s two interior storage bins.