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Ford Tries to Turn Currency Into Car Parts

Ford is hoping to make green greener as it tests decommissioned U.S. paper currency, and a range of other recycled materials, for potential use in car seat cushions, insulation and other components.

Along with used, shredded greenbacks, which are being tested for use in making interior trays and bins, the automaker is investigating the possible use of cellulose from trees, Indian grass, sugar cane, dandelions, corn and coconuts. Ford says that sustainability and, perhaps more crucially, rising oil prices are behind its research into recycled products.

In the early 2000s, when Ford says it started heavily researching sustainable materials, petroleum was readily available and relatively cheap; a barrel of oil was $16.65. Earlier this year, a barrel hit a high of $109.77. The price rise has made products manufactured using petroleum, such as plastics and some foams, too costly, leading Ford to look elsewhere for materials, the company said.

Along with the relative expense of plastics, the abundance of some of the recycled products has increased their appeal. For example, 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of retired paper currency are shredded daily – more than 3.6 million pounds annually. The shredded money is usually either compressed into bricks and landfilled, or burned.

In 2008, Ford announced that its researchers have formulated the chemistry to replace 40 percent of the standard petroleum-based polyol – used as cushioning in car seats – with a soy-derived material. The company now uses the soybean-based cushions in all of its North American vehicles including the all-new Fusion, saving about 5 million pounds of petroleum annually.

Similarly, the new Escape has door bolsters partially made of kenaf – a tropical plant in the cotton family – offsetting the use of 300,000 pounds of oil-based resin per year in North America. Each Escape also uses 10 pounds of scrap cotton from blue jeans, T-shirts, sweaters and other items in its dashboard, and the equivalent of 25 recycled 20-ounce plastic bottles help make the car’s carpet.

Other examples of recycled materials in the Detroit giant’s vehicles include environmentally friendly seals and gaskets made from discarded tires and bio-renewable content and cylinder head covers made using carpet.

In other green auto news, windshield supplier Safelite AutoGlass is in the midst of rolling out a windshield recycling program that it expects to save roughly 12 to 15 million tons of material going to landfills every year. The program’s roll-out began in early 2011 and implementation on the east coast is expected to complete by the end of May. Safelite will then roll out the recycling initiative to the west coast.

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