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Lear Introduces SoyFoam for Automotive Seating

14 December 2006

Lear Corporation, one of the world’s leading automotive interior suppliers, has developed a soybean oil-based flexible foam material—SoyFoam—for automotive interior applications.

Most auto manufacturers today use a 100% petroleum-based polyol foam. Per year, the US market for this material is 3 billion pounds; 9 billion pounds worldwide. An average of 30 pounds of petroleum-based foam is used in each vehicle produced.

Lear’s soy-based foam material is up to 24% renewable as opposed to traditional non-renewable petroleum-based foam. Advantages of SoyFoam include a lower environmental impact to produce, reduced dependency on petroleum and the potential for reducing foam costs.

Traditionally, the materials used to form flexible polyurethane foams for industrial applications are derived from petrochemical resources such as glycerin and ethylene oxide.

Ford Motor Company was the first automotive manufacturer to express an interest in soy foam for automotive applications and the first to demonstrate that soy-based polyols could be used at high levels (~40%) to make foams capable of meeting or exceeding automotive requirements. (Earlier post.)

In 2004, Ford and Lear formed a partnership to commercialize SoyFoam applications, with initial work concentrated on the molding of headrest and armrest components. Lear also is collaborating with the United Soybean Board—New Uses Committee (a group of 64 farmers/agricultural industry leaders), Urethane Soy Systems Company, Bayer Corporation and Renosol Corporation on SoyFoam development.

December 14, 2006 in Bio-polymers, Vehicle Systems | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

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Comments

Good! One more strike against petrolium!

Why not use oil for plastics, foam etc, especially if fully recyclable? Makes more sense than burning it.

Plenty of glycerin bioproducts from biodeisel manufacture to make foam from.

Most plastics and other petroleum based synthetic materials are made from LPG or CH4 (ethane, propane, butane, etc.).

Generally any replacement of petroleum in new applications is great, because it helps cure people of the perception that there is anything special and essential about petroleum or mineral gas.

However, the press release doesn't mention anything about longevity. Often, biobased materials will deteriorate faster or more easily than their "more synthetic" counterparts. Good if you want biodegradeable; highly inappropriate for car parts. If a few custom parts in a car deteriorated in 12 years, you would drive people to throw away the whole car earlier and the environmental benefit would be negative. At least for clean cars that deserve to be kept around. The environmental community needs to ask this question, and not risk becoming the scapegoats for a new wave of built-in obsolescence.

Of course, you can always start with biomass feedstocks and make something identical to or better than the petroleum version, including on longevity. But you might be losing the benefits that motivated pioneering the switch (before the carbon tax comes).

Granted, it takes time to establish longevity for sure. But the experts surely have plenty of good tests and analytical tools these days.

As oil becomes more expensive, it will shift to a raw material for synthetic materials (high margin value added products). High tech polymers and lubricants are two examples. Jet fuel and heavy fuel oil, may be some of the last to completely switch over to renewables, though due to opposite reasons. Asphalt, with high polymer content, may be another sector slow to go.

"Soy is a very green, renewable resource," says Debbie Mielewski, technical leader for Ford's Materials Research & Advanced Engineering Department. "Using soy-based foam gives us the opportunity to conserve natural resources and reduce our environmental footprint." There are also other ways manufacturers go green, like producing for example a good Volkswagen Fuel Filter that helps lessen harmful air that car emits.

Yeah I agree, It's becoming more of a trend nowadays and I think it's good for us and for our environment. Car manufacturer should keep it up, the greener the better.

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