Ford Cars Get A Jolt Of Sustainability With A Coffee Innovation

mbg Senior Sustainability Editor By Emma Loewe
mbg Senior Sustainability Editor
Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Editor at mindbodygreen and the author of "The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care."
Ford Cars Get A Jolt Of Sustainability With A New Coffee Innovation

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Do your eyes light up with that first jolt of coffee in the morning? The same thing can now happen to your car. Today, Ford Motor Company announced that it will be using coffee waste from McDonald's to help secure the headlights of its new vehicle.

It turns out, in an auto innovation lab akin to "a landfill crossed with a farm," Debbie Miewelski, Ph.D., Ford's senior technical leader of materials sustainability, and her team discovered that coffee chaff (the outer layer of bean that comes off during the roasting process) makes for a lightweight, heat-resistant plastic filler.

"Most plastics are reinforced with a filler or a fiber—either talc, which is mined from the earth, or glass fibers," Miewelski explains to mbg. "We were able to replace talc in this component with 22% coffee chaff, which is much less dense." The resulting material is 20% lighter than traditional plastic filling and requires 25% less energy to mold.

To source the unexpected filler, Ford turned to McDonald's: the chain responsible for a sizable amount of the 1.2 million pounds of chaff produced in the U.S. every week. When it's not composted or used as animal bedding, this coffee byproduct often gets sent to landfill. But Miewelski thinks the undervalued waste material could one day be used for other car parts too.

"[The area] under the hood is getting hotter and hotter as we improve fuel efficiency," she says. "So high-heat materials are very desirable."

Chaff is the latest in a series of unexpected elements to infiltrate Ford's vehicles. Since Miewelski kicked off the company's sustainable materials program nearly 20 years ago, soy has cushioned seat backs, cellulose from tree fiber has graced consoles, and rice hulls have been used in electrical harnesses. Next, the company is considering what other waste products from McDonald's could potentially be given a second life. "We're just starting to explore the partnership, but coffee is one of their high-volume materials. I mean, they sell a billion cups of coffee a year, so this was an obvious place to start," she says.

The first coffee-infused ride will be Ford's new 2020 Lincoln Continental, and the innovation will roll out to other models from there. While cars aren't usually synonymous with sustainability, it's exciting to see major corporations working together to make them a bit more circular.

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