As early as 1934, Ford was working on making theirs cars eco friendly, but not in the way you think. We are all well aware of the consequences gas emissions from cars has on our environment, but we are less aware of the consequences of plastic. Henry Ford created the first prototype car made with side panels containing soy beans in the 1940’s. He predicted that “Someday you and I will see a day where auto bodies will be grown on the farm” (New York Times), and he was right.
Today, 8% of our oil goes into making plastic. Ford is working to change this, by developing multiple new models that use organic supplements such as soybeans, wheat, corn, and even tomatoes for plastic. As we know from watching Food Inc. soybeans are mass produced, and cost next to nothing. The company and its team of scientists, led by Debbie Mielewski, have created a biomaterial from soybeans to replace the plastic based foam in the seats of their cars. This became a standard for the company, and today they have nearly 15 million cars on the road that are soy infused. Without the use of oil, production of these biodegradable resources reduces the CO2 emissions due to manufacturing by about 30%. Since it’s made from natural resources, the soy-based plastic will break down in just mounts, apposed to the 1,000 years our traditional plastic takes to decompose. These plastics typically accumulate in our oceans in gyres, small moving whirlpools, measuring 7 to 9 million square miles; twice the size of the United States (New York Times).
Ford is exploring other alternatives including replacing glass fibers with natural fibers, reducing weight of the plastic by 40%, with no reduction in its strength. ‘Mucell’ plastics are also being explored which involve injecting nitrogen and CO2 gas bubbles into the plastic before it is molded, using less plastic and speeding up production time (Edmunds). Nonetheless, Ford isn’t alone in its search for organic alternatives, they have been in talks with Heinz Ketchup Company to find a way to use left over tomato skins and stems from their production to create plastic for auto parts. In production Heinz uses 2 million tons of tomatoes annually when making their famous ketchup (citifmonline). The only problems researchers are running into with these biodegradable plastics, is making them last. The goal is to find a way to prevent biodegrading while they are in use. (Edmunds)
Alternatives to oil use have been explored since the 1860’s, but not necessarily in the same way ford and other companies are doing it today. The invention of cars stimulated an oil frenzy around the world. Grain alcohol was explored as an options, but was more expensive and also drinkable, jacking up the price further in order to keep America sober.
Leaded gasoline was studied next, but because of the lead oxide it produced when it was burned, it was poisonous, endangering the health of citizens and the environment (Steinberg 206). Little did these people know, in the 1970’s they would be begging for gas to fill up their cars at the pumps. When
American rushed to the aid of its ally Israel, OPEC (organization of petroleum exporting countries), hiked up oil prices, resulting in a shortage nation wide. People would wait for hours in line to fill their tanks, and even turned to violence in order to keep their cars running.
It is still true today that we are shamelessly dependent on oil, but many people aren’t aware of just how much goes into creating plastic, and the millions of tons of emissions they create. Cars aren’t the only criminals adding to climate change, plastics play a large part as well. With our advancing technology and scientists, we are well on out way to discovering a solution for our plastic problem.
Fiege, Mark. “Chapter 9 “Its a Gas”” The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States. Seattle, WA: U of Washington, 2012. 358-402. Print.
“Ford Develops Car Parts from Tomatoes, Soy Beans, Corn – Citifmonline.” Citifmonline. N.p., 24 Aug. 2015. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://citifmonline.com/2015/08/24/ford-develops-car-parts-from-tomatoes-soy-beans-corn
O’Dell, John. “Soy Seats and Corn Upholstery: Ford’s Biomaterials Researchers Really Do Have a Better Idea – AutoObserver.” AutoObserver Soy Seats and Corn Upholstery: Ford’s Biomaterials Researchers Really Do Have a Better Idea. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2015. http://www.edmunds.com/autoobserver-archive/2007/12/soy-seats-and-corn-upholstery-fords-biomaterials-researchers-really-do-have-a-better-idea.html
“Sowing the Seeds (Paid Post by Ford From NYTimes.com).” Sowing the Seeds (Paid Post by Ford From The New York Times). New York Times, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. http://paidpost.nytimes.com/ford/sowing-the-seeds.html
Steinberg, Theodore. “Chapter 13 “America in Black and Green”” Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. 203-39. Print.