Ford and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company Research Using Coconut Fibres in Vehicles

11 October 2011

Ford and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (SMG) are researching the use of coconut fibre reinforcement for moulded plastic parts to reduce the use of petroleum and make the parts lighter and more natural-looking.

According to SMG, Ford is hoping to add cars to the list of uses for coconuts by working with SMG to research how coconut coir, or husks, might be used as a plastic reinforcement. "This is a win-win situation. We're taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles," said Dr. Ellen Lee, Technical Expert for Plastics Research at Ford. "We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy."

Coconut coir is a natural fibre from the husk of a coconut. SMG uses the material as a carrier for its soils and grass seed products, including Scotts Turf Builder EZ Seed and Miracle-Gro Expand ‘n Gro Concentrated Planting Mix. Both products use the coir's natural fibres which SMG say holds 50 percent more water than basic potting soil and release it as plants need it – helping homeowners save water.

"SMG uses more than 70 million pounds of coir a year in our consumer products," said Dave Swihart, SMG Senior Vice President of Global Supply Chain. "Teaming up with Ford to find a high-value use for our leftover coir material is very exciting for us as we continually work to make our products and operations more sustainable."

SMG explain that once the coconut coir comes to Ford, researchers combine it with plastic to deliver additional reinforcement to the part while eliminating the need for some petroleum. Along with making use of a renewable resource, the new part would be lighter in weight. The natural long fibres also are visible in the plastic and offer a more natural look than typical materials.

The material is being designed for possible use in the interiors for parts such as storage bins, door trim, seat trim or centre console substrates. It could also potentially be used on under body and exterior trim.

SMG say Ford are currently testing the material's properties to ensure it passes all of the company's durability tests. Coconut coir is very difficult to burn, and Ford is researching whether it has natural flame-retardant properties.

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