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Detroit Auto Show: Seat cushions partially made with soybean oil coming in spring

The volatile cost of petroleum is forcing automotive suppliers to consider renewable fuels in their manufacturing processes. Should the price of oil skyrocket to $100 a barrel, then suppliers would need alternative sources of petroleum to make plastics and other materials found in today's vehicles. Johnson Controls is wrapping up pilot tests on seat cushions manufactured with a blend of 2 to 7 percent soybean oil. Once validation is completed, the cushions could be in production for up to 12 applications from four automakers by this spring.

A Johnson Controls official told AutoblogGreen that only one of the company's 29 worldwide facilities will integrate soybean oil in the beginning. The bottom seat cushions will be made with a blend of 7 percent soybean oil and 93 percent petroleum while the seat backs will vary between 2 and 5 percent. Johnson Controls is experimenting with formulas using up to 40 percent soybean oil, but the foam currently won't pass automakers' durability tests for seats at that level. The 40 percent formula may be used for headrests, however.

The primary challenge in substituting soybean oil was the smell. Once Johnson Controls solved that problem, then a series of validation tests could begin with automakers.

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