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Ford looks to make components from carpet material

Parts may contain sisal – a natural fibre found in rope, carpets and cat scratching posts

Published: June 21, 2012, 2:00 PM

Ford B-Max interior

Thanks to IKEA, the sisal carpet has become almost a standard feature in North-American homes. Now, sisal could be coming to your car too, but not just in carpet form.

Ford of Europe's engineers are investigating the production of a variety of car parts using sustainable fibres from sisal.

"Sisal is of major economic importance to some developing countries and communities; it’s a perennial agave plant that thrives on marginal land in hot and arid conditions and its use has far-reaching social benefits", said Maira Magnani, an advanced materials expert at Ford of Europe.

Renewable fibres like kenaf, flax, hemp and wood fibres are already commonly used in door trim inserts, with Ford’s all-new European B-MAX the latest model to benefit. Manufactured using a press-moulding process, up to 50 percent of the content in B-MAX’s door inserts are flax fibres.

But it’s an injection moulding technique, which Ford first pioneered with the inclusion of wheat straw in interior parts, that is now being considered for sisal, and even hemp, inclusion. This method allows increasingly complex components such as battery trays and engine junction box covers to be made of these fibre materials.

Including 30% hemp or sisal content in these components can achieve up to 10 percent weight reduction, the company says. Reduced weight means reduced fuel consumption and, like pennies, a lot of small gains can add up to something significant.

As well as reducing component weight, the temperatures needed to produce these parts are substantially lower than for conventional plastic parts, saving energy in the production process.

"The use of renewable and sustainable materials in our vehicle parts reduces the use of fossil-oil-based product and in turn reduces dependency on finite sources," said Magnani. "As the oil for producing plastics becomes more scarce and more expensive, it’s likely that the interest in using renewable materials will grow, but we’re aiming to stay ahead of the game now."

Ford’s history of using fibres from natural materials, including kenaf, flax and wood, dates back as far as 20 years, the company says. And its use of renewable materials dates back to 1915 when wheat-based glue, soybean wool and soybean were used in the Model T.