Look Into the Future: Ford looks to plants as an alternative to plastic. -Sarah McVann

Soybean Car 1941

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 explorcq5dam.web.1024.768ing 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.

"Leon Mill spray-paints a sign in Perkasie, Pa., in 1973 to let his customers know he's out of gas."

“Leon Mill spray-paints a sign in Perkasie, Pa., in 1973 to let his customers know he’s out of gas.”

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.

Works Cited

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.


11 thoughts on “Look Into the Future: Ford looks to plants as an alternative to plastic. -Sarah McVann

  1. Joan

    I had no idea that Ford was trying to use tomato skins to make their cars. I think you did a really good job explaining your topic. I think it was important that you talked about the negatives of using organic materials, like how there isn’t a solution to biodegrading yet.

  2. awshue

    Sarah this blog entry is very well done and full of great facts and information that support your argument. I am amazed that Heinz uses so many tomatoes annually and its fascinating that they are looking for methods of use for tomato skins. Hopefully something useful will come from their research.

  3. Nick Rolli Post author

    Your blog is spot on hitting the point you are trying to make. I like how you used Food INC as a source, as you have not forgot about it even though it was a while ago. Ford talking with Heinz ketchup trying to help this problem out is pretty eye opening to me.

  4. Brett Michaud

    This is a very well written blog. Very informative and factually sound. It’s crazy how many different natural materials can be used to create products so essential to our cultures and societies. As Andrew commented on previously, I was also very surprised at how many tomatoes Ford uses. Just goes to show the potential uses of so many different aspects of nature!

  5. Clairee Putnam Post author

    Sarah, I really enjoyed reading your blog! Many of the facts you provided were very thought provoking. I was interested to learn about the connection between Ford and Heinz ketchup. It makes me wonder how many other natural resources these large companies are trying to incorporate into their organic business strategy.

  6. Emily B.

    I found your blog very interesting because, yes, I was aware that cars dating back to the model-T have been heavily dependent on oil to operate and during production; however, I was unaware of the effects of plastics on the environment. My only concern is: does using natural specimens such as soybeans, tomatoes, and natural fibers for glass make cars more unsafe? Or would they be just as safe and operate just as well?

  7. mlongbi101anselm

    This past year was the first time Ford produced a automobile with a body made of military grade aluminum. I believe that there only did this in their truck series. The aluminum bides are still set on a steel frame. This is proof they are trying to upgrade the products that they use in manufacturing

  8. Hayley Pettinato

    This is a fascinating article! It’s really interesting to see other methods used to make plastic other than oil; I would not have expected that soybeans and corn could be turned into plastic. I also find it curious that Ford is pretty much the only car company that’s exploring these alternative methods. This makes me wonder if our environmental footprint would significantly decrease if other companies hopped on the bandwagon.

  9. Matt Sargent

    Whenever I hear people talking about car companies and the environment I immediately assume they’re talking about gas emissions from the vehicle, I never would have thought the plastic that they use could be such an issue. I thought this was a great blog overall and very informational, especially the facts you gave from your outside sources! Good job!

  10. Sarah Bartlett

    Sarah, you had an awesome blog entry. It really is amazing that the possibility that plants could be an alternative to plastic is even an option. That would be a drastic turning point in the garbage crisis and as you said 8% of oil goes to making plastic. We could reduce our oil usage. The fact that Ford and Heinz Ketchup are working together to search for organic alternatives is remarkable. It is kind of like in Food Inc. how organic farmers working with Walmart is a huge step. Getting big wealthy companies involved in this kind of stuff is extremely important. They have so much money and power that we need to get all the big corporations on board.

  11. christian smith

    Great article Sarah, I learned a lot of information, I very surprised to learn about the connection between Ford and Heinz ketchup. Hopefully all their research will lead to greater discovers to help preserve the earth!


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