Img preview " Development of a new Bio-Composite from renewable resources with improved thermal and fire resistance for manufacturing a truck internal part with high quality surface finishing "


Autocomposites from waste: Garbage in, valuable, functional parts out

Automakers explore use of waste materials to make commercial car parts. This photo shows some members of the Ford Motor Co. research team currently working on new applications involving biopolymers, natural fiber reinforcements, and giving new life to (formerly) waste materials. From left to right, Alper Kiziltas, Ph.D., lead research scientist, holds a fan molded from glass reinforced PCR PP / PA6/6 and he sits next to a seat covered in bio-based PET fabric; Dan Frantz, research engineer, holds a soy-based polyurethane foam block used for seat cushioning; Debbie Mielewski, Ph.D., senior technical leader, holds coffee chaff and a headlamp housing molded with carbonized coffee-chaff-filled PP; Cindy Barrera-Martinez, Ph.D., research engineer, holds a bamboo stalk and a bio-based polyurethane engine cover incorporating recycled tire rubber and she stands behind a cellulose/LFT hybrid composite console substrate; Sandeep Tamrakar, Ph.D., post-doctoral researcher, holds a cellulose/LFT hybrid composite sill shield; and Md. Golam Rasul, doctoral intern, holds a kenaf-reinforced PP door bolster.  Source | Ford Motor Co.

Hyundai Motor Group’s composite pillar trim panel is featured in the company’s 2011 MY Kia Pride subcompacts and Optima midsize sedans, plus Hyundai Elantra midsize sedans. The textured parts feature tiny flecks of color and have a fabric-like feel, which enabled the automaker to eliminate the cost of fabric wrapping the parts and the cost and environmental burden of painting them. Source | Hyundai Motor Group

This electrical cowl bracket, featured in Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 pickups, is injection molded from rice hull-reinforced polypropylene. The automaker says rice hulls were a drop-in replacement for talc, reducing development costs and time and eliminating the need for tooling changes. The material is both renewable and recyclable. Source | SPE Automotive Division 

Ford Motor Co. has used a number of interesting composite materials on its high-volume F-150 pickups, one of which is an electrical cowl bracket injection molded from rice hull-reinforced polypropylene (PP) that debuted in the 2014 model year vehicles. Yazaki North America, Inc. (Canton, Mich., U.S.) was the system supplier, A. Raymond Tinnerman (Rochester Hills, Mich., U.S.) was the molder, and Rhe Tech, Inc. (Whitmore Lake, Mich., U.S.) supplied the resin for this program. Source | Ford Motor Co.

Agricultural waste is not the only source of beautiful, functional automotive parts. Hyundai Motor Group developed an interesting composite comprising the volcanic rock scoria, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) fabric pile, glass microspheres, and PP resin to injection mold pillar trim panels. Source | SPE Automotive Division

Another interesting use of “waste” materials was a circular recycling program that produced air baffles for the 2011 MY Chevrolet Volt hybrid electric vehicles from General Motors. The parts were injection molded from equal parts styrene butadiene (SBR) rubber, PP and polyethylene (PE). The material was obtained from shredded automotive tires, plastic packaging aids from GM’s production facilities, post-consumer bottles, and oil-containment booms that had helped clean up the Gulf of Mexico after the Deep-Water Horizon spill in 2010. Interestingly, the booms themselves had been produced from recycled automotive plastics waste, bringing the materials back full circle. Companies involved included system supplier GDC Inc. (Goshen, Ind., U.S.) and boom material supplier Mobile Fluid Recovery, Inc. (Seguin, Texas, U.S.). Source | SPE Automotive Division 

The 2011 MY Chevrolet Volt hybrid electric vehicle from General Motors features a recycled composite air baffle.

A comparison of % strain (left) and stress (right) vs. energy dissipation/unit volume for fiberglass, hemp fiber, and cellulose fiber for a vinyl ester matrix shows that natural fibers dissipate energy at lower stress states and higher strains than glass, which, in turn, demonstrates that natural fibers offer improved energy absorption at higher strain rates. Source | Ford Motor Co.

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In a lot of industries, the aphorism “garbage in, garbage out” is a reliable maxim. If your inputs are of poor quality or little value, your final products will probably be as well. However, the automotive industry is turning that adage on its head by repurposing waste materials normally considered to have no use into functional, beautiful and valuable automotive parts for vehicles already on the road. In doing so, automotive companies are keeping materials out of landfills and waterways, providing jobs in distressed communities and giving farmers another income stream, all while reducing part weight and cost, stabilizing long-term material prices, and greening their vehicles. This is a good example of another saying: “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”

Ag waste

A lot of these repurposed waste materials are the agricultural by-products of food production. They’re generally the outer wrappings of crop plants, such as tomato skins from ketchup production or agave fiber from tequila production. These inedible wrappings (often from seeds) are the parts of plants that either will not compost or will not compost easily, and that have little or no utility as animal bedding. Their lack of utility causes these wrappings to accumulate in waste piles where they can prove a nuisance or, if ignored long enough, become a health and safety challenge. However, these fibrous outer wrappings are proving to be useful as natural fiber reinforcements for a variety of composites.

“People don’t understand that natural fibers are lightweight alternatives,” explains Debbie Mielewski, Ph.D., senior technical leader for sustainable materials research at Ford Motor Co. (Dearborn, MI, US). “They think that natural fibers are just for greening products and they look to far more costly materials like carbon fiber to cut pounds out of vehicles. At Ford, we believe we can remove tens-of-pounds [from a vehicle] using natural fibers. Not only are they an abundant local resource nearly everywhere, but our studies suggest they’re very good at absorbing impact energy, far outperforming glass [fiber]. Furthermore, natural fibers are far more recyclable than glass in that they tend to bend rather than break during processing like glass, so you don’t have to downcycle performance expectations for recycled materials. They’re also more flexible and bendable, and much more isotropic to design with than glass.”

It is no surprise that Ford has taken up the mantle that former DaimlerChrysler (DCX, now FCA US LLC, Auburn Hills, MI, US) carried in the early 2000s by using many natural fiber products in vehicle components. However, unlike DCX, which primarily worked with conventional bast-type fibers from inner bark/phloem from plants like kenaf, flax, sisal and jute, Ford has a knack for finding previously unused fibers that are equally effective. In fact, Mielewski says Ford’s vision is to use whatever natural resources are locally available near its production plants to reduce the costs and carbon footprint of shipping natural fibers around the world. For example, Ford might use agave fiber from tequila production in its Mexico facilities, bamboo fiber for Asian part production and tomato skins from ketchup production in North America. The automaker is even reportedly studying uses for dandelions, algae and the durable linen/cotton blend from retired currency.

Going nuts

Coconuts might seem an odd choice to reinforce automotive parts, but it turns out they’re plentiful between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, and their properties are consistent from season to season, species to species, and soil to soil across that geographic region. Once coconut meat and milk are extracted at processing plants, the shell and its outer (coir-fiber) husk tend to accumulate in refuse mountains because villagers often lack the ability to dispose of them. Unfortunately, neither shell nor husk are edible, they have no animal or human bedding use, they don’t burn easily and they compost very slowly. On the positive side, at 250 µm, coir fiber’s diameter is significantly larger than that of most other natural and synthetic fibers, which contributes bending stiffness, strength and ductility to composites. Owing to the fiber’s high lignin content, it’s also inherently flame retardant, indigestible to insects and microbes (reducing odor) and is less prone to swelling under humid conditions.

In addition, coconut shells can be ground into a fine powder and used as a lighter, less abrasive replacement for mineral fillers like talc in plastics and composites. Ford, working with suppliers like Essentium Materials LLC (College Station, TX, US), has developed a number of applications for  coir fiber and coconut shell powder starting with 2012 model year (MY) battery-electric vehicles (BEVs).  In that case, coir was commingled with polypropylene (PP) fiber, then carded, needled and converted to a nonwoven felt. The felt was then die-cut, bonded to pressboard (itself containing recycled fibers), and sandwiched between recycled carpet on the A (face) side and polyester scrim on the B (reverse) side to produce a load floor/package shelf to cover (yet allow access to) onboard battery packs — all while providing a stable surface for consumer packages in the rear trunk. The porous felt core was light, stiff and absorbed sound on the vehicle interior.

The automaker next turned to ground coconut shells combined with rubber from shredded tires to produce a thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) that was injection molded into structural guards for 2013 MY Ford F-250 Super Duty pickups. The parts were lighter, less costly, and less abrasive on tooling than mineral-reinforced predecessors. In 2015, coconut powder was used for injection molded thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) decklid appliqué brackets and side-door cladding on Ford Mustang sports cars in combination with shredded battery cases and magnesium-silica fibers from

» Author: Peggy Malnati

» Publication Date: 31/12/2018

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This project has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under grant agreement n° [605658].

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