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Ford Researchers Discover Soy Oil Doubles Rubber’s Stretchability

Ford Motor Company’s biomaterial researchers have discovered that by using soy oil as a 25 percent replacement for petroleum oil, it more than doubles the rubber’s stretchability while reducing its environmental impact. The soy-based rubbers could be used to manufacture automotive parts such as radiator deflector shields, air baffles, cupholder inserts and floor mats for future Ford vehicle programs.

Ford’s recent rubber research, which was funded in part by grants from the United Soybean Board (USB), included the use of soy fillers (flour, meal) and soy oils. USB is working closely with the automaker in an effort to get soy-based technology commercialized.

Ford researchers found that soy fillers could provide an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly partial replacement of carbon black, a petroleum-based material traditionally used to reinforce rubber. According to researchers, soy oil and soy fillers, used together, could replace up to 26 percent of the petroleum-based content in automotive rubber applications.

Ford says the automotive sector accounts for more than 50 percent of worldwide rubber consumption, which exceeded 22 million metric tons in 2008, according to the International Rubber Study Group. Automotive rubber use is expected to rise more than 4 percent through 2013.

Ford was the first automaker to demonstrate the use of soy-based foams for automotive applications, starting with seats for the 2008 Ford Mustang and headliners for the 2010 Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner. The new 2011 Ford Explorer will become the 23rd model to feature soy foam.

With bio foam on more than 2 million vehicles, Ford has reduced its petroleum oil use by more than 3 million pounds and its carbon dioxide emissions by 11 million pounds annually.

Ford also is looking at the use of other renewable sources for foam, including grape seed and sunflower oil. In addition, the automaker is using  post-consumer recycled resins to make underbody systems, post-industrial recycled yarns for seat fabrics, repurposed nylon carpeting made into nylon resin and molded into cylinder head covers, and wheat straw-reinforced plastic parts.

By using recycled or renewable content, Ford reduced the amount of automotive-related plastics to landfills by nearly 30 million pounds and saved approximately $4.5 million by reusing recycled materials in 2009.

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