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Ford first automaker to use captured CO2 to develop foam and plastic for vehicles

Ford Motor Company is the first automaker to formulate and test new foam and plastic components using carbon dioxide as feedstock. Researchers expect to see the new biomaterials in Ford production vehicles within five years.

Formulated with up to 50% CO2-based polyols, the foam is showing promise as it meets rigorous automotive test standards. It could be employed in seating and underhood applications, potentially reducing petroleum use by more than 600 million pounds annually. CO2-derived foam will further reduce the use of fossil fuels in Ford vehicles and increase the presence of sustainable foam in the automaker’s global lineup.

Ford began working with several companies, suppliers and universities in 2013 to find applications for captured CO2. Among these companies is Novomer. Novomer is commercializing a proprietary catalyst system that transforms waste CO2 into high performance, low-cost polymers for a variety of applications, including foam and plastic that are easily recyclable. These polymers contain up to 50% CO2 by mass.

Features of the Novomer catalyst include:

  • Moderate Reaction Conditions. The Novomer CO2-epoxide reaction occurs at moderate temperature and pressure, typically 35° to 50°C and 200 to 300 psi, and thus the polymerization process requires significantly less energy for synthesis as compared to conventional polyols.

  • Fast Reaction Times. Novomer’s catalyst is more than 300 times more active than previous systems developed to synthesize aliphatic polycarbonates and, therefore, results in fast and easily manageable reaction times.

  • Low Catalyst Cost. The catalyst system does not use precious metals and requires simple organic chemistry which keeps its synthesis costs low. In addition it is easily removed from the polymer and can be recycled and reused.

  • Low Finished Polymer Cost. The use of inexpensive CO2 combined with Novomer’s fast-acting, low-cost catalyst yields finished polymers that are competitive or cost-advantaged relative to competing petroleum-based polymers.

  • Tunable Molecular Structure. Novomer polymers can be tailored to yield precise polymer backbones, structures, molecular weights and functionalities, creating materials with optimized performance properties for specific industrial applications.

An overriding performance benefit of Converge polyols that translates across all polyurethane applications is increased strength. In foams, the incorporation of Converge Polyol into the formulation improves mechanical and tear strength, and increases the foam modulus (greater load bearing capacity) at equivalent density. An additional benefit of Converge Polyols is a more than 40% reduction in heat of combustion versus conventional polyols—especially important where strict flammability requirements must be met.

In most applications, Converge Polyols are used in combination with conventional polyols to achieve the desired performance benefits. In general, Converge polyols are miscible with most polyester polyols while compatibility with polyether polyols is more limited and impacted by concentration and molecular weight of the polyols being blended.

Novomer is excited by the pioneering work Ford has completed with our Converge CO2-based polyols. It takes bold, innovative companies such as Ford to enable new technologies to become mainstream products.

—Peter Shepard, Novomer chief business officer

Some 2.4 million pounds (1,088.62 metric tonnes) of CO2 are released into the atmosphere globally per second. Plastic manufacturing accounts for nearly 4% of the world’s oil use, according to British Plastic Federation. Ford researchers are hopeful the company’s early steps to use captured carbon in innovative ways will help achieve the long-term goals to reduce global warming recently set in the UN Paris Agreement.

For nearly two decades, researchers have worked successfully to develop sustainable materials for Ford products. 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.


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