Ford creates new composite components from McDonald's coffee waste

Coffee bean chaff can be used to reinforce auto parts, such as headlamp housings

Published: December 5, 2019, 4:30 PM
Updated: November 17, 2021, 3:44 PM

Ford and McDonald’s partner up on sustainability efforts - Ian Olson, senior director, global sustainability, McDonald’s (left) and Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research.

Ford is partnering up with McDonald’s for its next round of sustainability, using dried coffee-bean skins for vehicle parts, such as headlamp housings.

The coffee bean skin comes off naturally during the bean-roasting process, and the two companies discovered that it can be converted into a durable material used to reinforce certain vehicle parts by heating it under high temperatures and low oxygen, mixing with plastic and other additives, turning it into pellets and then working the composite into various shapes.

“Like McDonald’s, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we’re always looking for innovative ways to further that goal,” said Ian Olson, senior director, global sustainability, McDonald’s. “By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we are elevating how companies together can increase participation in the closed-loop economy.”

McDonald’s has committed to directing a significant amount of the coffee chaff in North America (a reported 2,700 kg annually) to Ford, which says the new composite meets Ford quality specs for parts such as headlamp housings and other underhood components, as it’s about 20% lighter and offer better heat properties than the material currently used in those parts. The composite also requires up to 25% less energy during the moulding process.

“McDonald’s commitment to innovation was impressive to us and matched our own forward-thinking vision and action for sustainability,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team. “This has been a priority for Ford for over 20 years, and this is an example of jump starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products.”

The process of turning coffee chaff into automotive components also draws on the expertise and workmanship of Varroc Lighting Systems, which supplies the headlamps to Ford, and Competitive Green Technologies, the processor of the coffee chaff from McDonald’s.

The companies plan to continue exploring new ways to collaborate on waste usage as a resource, in order to meet their respective sustainability goals.