Ford Motor Company and John Deere Corporation, supported by research funded by the United Soybean Board, are moving forward in replacing even a larger percentage of petroleum-based products, specifically the foam used in seats, head and hand rests, with more soy-based products.
Today, at the Commodity Classic conference, Matthew Zaluzec, manager of Ford's Materials and Research and Advanced Engineering Department, announced that Ford is committed to producing soy-based cushioning, displacing 40% of its former petroleum-based products with polyol derived from soy oil.
Earlier this year Ford launched the new products using 5% soy-derived materials in its Ford Mustang, F-150, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator. It will expand the line to include the Ford Escape in 2009 and two other vehicle lines, yet to be announced, that year. It will also increase the formulation to 40% in the near future and is currently researching ways to incorporate soy-based products, including the meal, in rubber formulations for floor mats, cup holders and bed mats.
The research, conducted in Dearborn, Michigan, is partially funded through grants over the last three years from USB.
John Deere, in collaboration with Ford, is using the technology to manufacture soy-based flexible foam for seating materials in tractors, riding mowers and other equipment.
"We have the ability to have a significant impact on the environment without compromising the durability, stiffness or performance of the foam," Zaluzec says. "When crude oil was $40 a barrel, there were few interested in developing this product. But now that oil is more than $100 a barrel, everyone is interested. Even before the economics came into play, we recognized the need, and the desire of consumers, to have greener materials to displace petroleum. We are happy to be at the forefront of being able to offer this product without costing the consumer anything, while chipping away at our dependence on the petroleum industry. We've made not just a promise, but a commitment."
Don Borgman, director of ag relations at John Deere, adds, "This is another step in weaning ourselves of foreign oil and are expanding that commitment with soy-based body panels and hoods on farm equipment."
Zaluzec says that $60 a barrel oil is the cross over, or the cost-neutral, base for switching to soy-based products. "Today, this not only makes environmental sense, it has financial incentive," he says. "We have developed a 5% replacement, and through research, we are now at 40%. There is great potential and some didn't believe it was possible."
By working with the Lear Corporation, that technology has gone from an experimental level to being fully commercial
According to Zaluzec, by Ford using 5% soy-based products in the 2008 Mustang along, it has utilized 850,000 bushels of soybeans. "Imagine what the potential is with using 40% and expanding it to all Ford vehicles," he says.
Human use of soybean oil will continue to be its primary use, according to Chuck Myers, vice chair of the USB. "But this is a great new use of soybeans for expanding renewable resources. Consumers want to see that and I'm convinced that if we develop more demand, growers will respond by producing more. "I'm not concerned with playing food uses against industrial uses. Farmers are quick to respond to demand. This is an excellent leverage of check-off dollars to create new uses for soybeans."