Just the other day, CleanTechnica hosted a lively conversation about tribalism and EV ownership, and here comes The Ford Motor Company to add a little zest to the pot. Ford has been integrating sustainable materials to the EV experience, and the company has just announced that carbon capture will be the latest addition to its roster, via foam and plastic parts sourced from reclaimed carbon dioxide.
Ford is nowhere near competing with Tesla in terms of free publicity and tribal identification — nor is any other automaker — but the focus on sustainable materials provides Ford with a marketing hook that expands the planet-saving aspect of the EV experience.
Carbon Capture & The EV Experience
Ford plans to transition its seating and underhood foam and plastic parts to materials made with reclaimed carbon dioxide, following a test period to ensure that the new materials stand up to the rigors of automotive use. The company anticipates crossover within the next 5 years.
Before you get too excited, keep in mind that the foam would not consist of 100% carbon dioxide. Ford is looking for materials that hit the 50% mark, at most. However, even at that level, Ford anticipates that the new foam would replace 600 million pounds of petroleum yearly.
The sustainability angle is part and parcel of the EV experience, and in its press materials Ford also notes that everyone who drives any of its US vehicles will experience it, too — whether they know it or not:
In North America, soy foam is in every Ford vehicle. Coconut fiber backs trunk liners; recycled tires and soy are in mirror gaskets; recycled T-shirts and denim go into carpeting; and recycled plastic bottles become REPREVE fabric used in the 2016 F-150.
The Novomer Angle
Ford has been hammering away at carbon reclamation with a number of different partners for the past 3 years, and its press materials highlight a Massachusetts company called Novomer.
Novomer has been sailing under the CleanTechnica radar, but the company has caught the eye of the US Department of Energy. In 2013, the Energy Department joined a funding partnership with Novomer that successfully produced thermoplastic pellets from waste carbon dioxide.
Since then, Novomer has commercialized its gas-to-plastics process and is marketing its reclaimed carbon products under the proprietary brand Converge:
Converge® polyols are designed to replace conventional petroleum-based polyether, polyester, and polycarbonate polyols. They are based on the co-polymerization of carbon dioxide (CO2) and epoxides and the resulting products contain more than 40% by weight CO2.
The use of CO2 as a significant raw material yields a product with an extremely low carbon footprint.
That’s nice, but what really makes Novomer’s case for Converge is its “significantly” lower cost than conventional materials sourced from petroleum.
The sticky wicket is performance relative to conventional materials. Novomer seems to have covered its bases in that regard:
…Converge® polyols have a unique polycarbonate backbone which increases the strength and durability of polyurethane products. Incorporating these new polyols into existing formulations yields foams with higher tensile and tear strength, and increased load bearing capacity, adhesives and coatings with improved adhesion, cohesive strength, and weatherability, and elastomers with greater tensile and flexural strength.
Converge products can also be tuned to optimize performance, so it’s probably safe to assume that Ford’s years-long testing process will yield a suite of materials tailored specifically for the automotive industry.
From Waste Gas To Plastics
As for Novomer’s technology, converting carbon dioxide gas into solid materials may sound like a pipe dream, but the company is one of several that have been nurtured along by the Energy Department (Newlight and LanzaTech are among the others).
The Novomer process is based on a proprietary, low-cost catalyst that performs effectively at a relatively low temperature and pressure (35° to 50°C and 200 to 300psi, according to the company). The resulting energy savings is one key to keeping the overall cost of the system down.
Another cost-saving angle is the ease with which the catalyst can also be removed and reclaimed for additional use.
Image (screenshot) via Ford Motor Company.
Appreciate CleanTechnica’s originality? Consider becoming a CleanTechnica Member, Supporter, Technician, or Ambassador — or a patron on Patreon.