This May Ford announced that it will soon have the capability to transform the greenhouse gas carbon-dioxide, CO2, into auto parts. The carmaker says that they’re working with a manufacturer that can turn CO2 into a foam, and that soon they will be able to make plastic out of C02 as well and potentially reduce their petroleum use by more than 600 million pounds a year.
If that claim sounds too good to be true, then it’s because a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted whenever an automaker makes big claims about eco-friendly breakthroughs like this (see also: Volkswagen, the 1,000 miles per gallon GM Volt, et al). It’s the kind of click-baity headline that’s sure to generate a round of fawning coverage from gullible online content writers.
The CO2-based foam is the latest lightweighting project from Ford. The company hopes to one day be able to replace plastic and other petroleum-based car parts with the new eco-friendly material.
“There’s 30 pounds of foam in a typical vehicle, and 300 pounds of plastic,” explained Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader of sustainability. “So 10% of the vehicle is plastic currently, and that number grows every year as we try to use plastic to replace metal for light-weighting, fuel economy purposes.”
Facing strict new emissions caps all over the world, car companies are desperate to reduce the weight of their vehicles in any way they can. In the 1990s car makers began installing an insulating carpet material called mass backing. Now, mass backing has been replaced with flimsier auto carpets that weigh less, resulting in louder cars. Other car companies have stopped including a spare tire in their vehicles, willing to do whatever it takes to shave off a few extra pounds.
Even super cars are adhering to the new paradigm, often referred to by the maxim, “Light is Right.” The company behind the Lotus supercars has even created a Lightweight Laboratory, where every single component in the car is analyzed in terms of weight.
Only time will tell whether Ford’s C02-based plastic is anything more than a gimmick, but either way, there’s no longer any doubt that lightweighting is here to stay.