Dearborn, Michigan – Ford has announced it is looking to develop foams and plastics
for its vehicles that use captured carbon dioxide (CO2) as a feedstock.
The foam, formulated with up to 50% carbon dioxide-based polyols, is showing promise as it meets rigorous automotive test standards, Ford says. It is working with Ithaca, New York-based polyol producer Novomer, plus several other partners whose identities a Ford spokesman says will be disclosed in the near future.
“The new polyols and polyurethane will be used in seat cushions, seat backs, floor mats and other components like side paneling and console features,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader for materials sustainability.
“These polymers are undergoing rigorous testing and, in certain applications, they are already exceeding our expectations.”
Carbon dioxide-based polymers offer further advantages to the automotive industry in addition to increased sustainability, according to Novomer’s chief business
officer Peter Shepard.
“A large fraction of the carbon in the backbone comes from the carbon dioxide, which is already fully oxidised, so it is much less flammable than conventional polyols,”he said.
“This allows flame retardant use to be reduced.”
When the material does burn, it burns more cleanly and produces less smoke, Novomer said. “We’ve done side-by-side comparisons between our polyol and a conventional polyether polyol, and it releases about 40% less heat,” Shepard added. The foam is also a lot stiffer than conventional products. “You can produce a foam that provides more
comfort at lower density,” he said.
Currently, Novomer’s polyols are only produced on a modest scale, and are
more expensive than conventional polyols. Shepard believes, however, that at full
production scale, they would be cost-competitive.
“There would be a big economic benefit by replacing a proportion of the propylene oxide with carbon dioxide,” he said. “We use a catalyst that is expensive, but at scale with a decent purchase volume, that balances out and we can be competitive, as CO2 is 5–7% the cost of propylene oxide.”
Ford’s Mielewski does not see cost as a problem, either. “We view carbon dioxide
as an inexpensive alternative feedstock,” she said.
“Depending on petroleum prices in the future, it certainly has the potential to be cheaper. We expect to achieve commercial deployment in five years, but this depends on
the materials’ availability which, in turn, depends on Novomer’s ability to scale production through the opening of a commercial-scale plant,” she said.