|Image souce: Ford Motor Co.|
McDonald’s USA produces millions of pounds of coffee chaff every year, and now Ford is incorporating some of that waste stream into the creation of injection-molded plastic parts like F-150 pickup truck headlamp housings.
|An F-150 headlamp housing. Image source: Ford Motor Co.|
|Ford's Sustainability Projects|
2007: Soybean-based foam for seats and headliners
2008: Recycled plastic bottles for carpets, wheel liners and fabrics
2009: Wheat straw for storage bins and cup holders
2010: Post-consumer recycled cotton for door and trunk sound-dampening
2011: Recycled tires for seals and gaskets and dandelions for floor mats, cupholders and interior trim pieces
2012: Recycled/shredded US currency for small bins and coin holders and kenaf plant into door bolsters
2013: Rice hulls for electrical harnesses
2014: Tomato skins for wiring brackets and storage bins
2015: Cellulose tree bark for underhood applications
2016: Agave fiber for cup holders and storage bins
2017: Captured CO2 to convert into foams and padding
2018: Bamboo for interior and underhood plastic composite parts
2019: Coffee chaff for headlamp housings and underhood components
The chaff serves as a filler in place of talc, which is normally used to help reduce the weight, increase the strength and improve the heat resistance of plastic parts by blending it into the mixture that is used to make parts
The coffee chaff doesn’t just turn out to be a sustainable alternative to talc, it actually performs even better than the regular material. Of course, if you could just grind up coffee chaff and stir it into plastic materials, suppliers would likely have been doing so already.
Ford’s Research and Innovation Center has developed a process that heats the chaff to high temperatures under low oxygen and then mixes it along with other additives into plastic to create the pellets that plastic manufacturers use to create the end product.
Ford and McDonald’s partner with Competitive Green Technologies, which processes the coffee chaff and with Varroc Lighting Systems, which supplies the F-150’s headlamps to Ford. Together, they create parts that are about 20 percent lighter than before and use 25 percent less energy during the molding process, but which have significantly better heat properties than headlight housings made with talc.
“The coffee chaff is even better than the talc material we are replacing,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team. “It is better for the environment, lighter weight and it even has better heat properties.”
While McDonald’s produces millions of pounds of chaff annually, the project with Ford is starting off using 75,000 lbs. “Which really is a lot, but it is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Ian Olson, senior director of global sustainability for McDonald’s. “The potential is unlimited,” he enthused.
Indeed, Ford doesn’t plan to stop with just this one part for one vehicle. “We don’t want to put it on just one car line,” said Mielewski. “We start there and grow it until we do sustainability everywhere we can.”
Ford has a record of using recycled and sustainable materials in its vehicles dating to 2007, when the company employed soybean-based foam for seats and headliners. “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,” Mielewski explained.
McDonald’s is planning to have all of its coffee beans be sustainably sourced by 2020, which will further improve the benefits of the project. “Like McDonald’s, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we’re always looking for innovative ways to further that goal,” said Olson. “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.”
Dan Carney is a Design News senior editor, covering automotive technology, engineering and design, especially emerging electric vehicle and autonomous technologies.