If you spend any time studying the advances of the original Henry Ford, you'll find that he often returned to the farm to find multiple uses for home grown products. In the early 1900s, Mr. Ford used oils from soybeans to produce plastic components (similar to Bakelite) and the paint used on iconic Model T.
Many readers already know that plastics and many types of foam are produced using petroleum mixed with other chemicals. Each vehicle on the road carries about 30 pounds of petroleum-based foams in their seats and behind door panels. While significant, worldwide production of foam is approximately 9 billion pounds. The amount of petroleum used to create this foam is significant, so reduction is a key to conservation.
Today, Ford Motor Company chemists continue to experiment with soybeans and the uses for this bean's versatile oil. AOL was invited to see what two forward-thinking chemists were cooking up in one of the company's many experimental laboratories.
Ford's technical specialist Cynthia Flanigan, PhD and formulation chemist Christina Perry demonstrated the benefits of recent advances their team has made. They showed us seat cushion foam made from a mix of 40% soy oil and only 60% petroleum (as opposed to foam made from 100% petroleum). This mix, when used for the production of tens of thousands of seats reduces the consumption of petroleum and the production of C02 emissions. Plus, the soy is renewable, and the cost savings for the company over using petroleum are estimated by Ford at being $26 million per year.
Currently, the team has successfully used a mixture of 40% soy oil to create a production-ready foam, but Ford's team is confident that this percentage can go higher. Flanigan notes, "It's harder than you think to make a foam that has the properties one needs for a durable, long-life foam that is also comfortable." Perry adds, "Plus, when you're working with soy polyol, if you're not careful the foam ends up smelling like popcorn. We have to adjust the foam's formulation to account for variables like these as we move forward with using higher percentages of the renewable soy oil."
Ford plans to expand the usage of soy in seats beyond the Mustang (where they are currently used) in the near term.