From coffee beans to car parts: How Ford and McDonald's are teaming up for sustainable solutions
Collaboration builds on their commitments to environmental stewardship.
Coffee beans and car parts may not seem like a natural fit, but when two companies are both striving for sustainability in every aspect of their business, a bit of magic can happen.
Ford Motor Company and McDonald's USA will soon be giving vehicles a caffeine boost by using a familiar staple in the morning routine — coffee beans — in vehicle parts such as headlamp housings.
Why coffee? Every year, millions of pounds of coffee chaff, the dried skin of the bean, comes off naturally during the roasting process. Together, Ford and McDonald's have come up with an innovative way to utilize a significant portion of that material.
"McDonald's commitment to innovation was impressive to us and matched our own forward-thinking vision and action for sustainability," said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team. "This has been a priority for Ford for over 20 years, and this is an example of jump-starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products."
The two companies discovered that chaff can be converted into a durable material to reinforce certain vehicle parts. By heating the chaff to high temperatures under low oxygen, mixing it with plastic and other additives and turning it into pellets, the material can be formed into various shapes.
And yes, if you're wondering, when the coffee chaff is heated up, it smells not unlike your favorite coffee shop or local roaster. At least, according to Ian Olson, senior director of global sustainability at McDonald's. "It does make you thirsty for a coffee, that's for sure," he says while viewing the manufacturing process.
The chaff composite meets the quality specifications for parts like headlamp housings and other interior and under-the-hood components. The resulting components will be about 20% lighter and require up to 25% less energy during the molding process.
Better yet, the heat properties of the chaff component are significantly greater than the currently used material, according to Ford. This is the first time Ford has used coffee bean skins to be converted into vehicle parts.
McDonald's is expected to direct a significant portion of its coffee chaff in North America to Ford to be incorporated in this manner.
"Like McDonald's, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we're always looking for innovative ways to further that goal," said Olson. "By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we are elevating how companies together can increase participation in the closed-loop economy."
The collaboration with Ford and McDonald's is the latest example of the innovative approaches both companies are applying in the realms of product and environmental stewardship. The project also involves Varroc Lighting Systems, which supplies the headlamps, and Competitive Green Technologies, the company that processes the coffee chaff.
Since the turn of the century, Ford's scientists have been researching ways to replace petroleum-based plastics with bio-based materials and agricultural by-products. The auto company is progressing toward a goal of using recycled and renewable plastics in vehicles globally, with an increasing range of sustainable materials.
McDonald's is now on its way to sourcing 100% of its guest packaging from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025. Additionally, McDonald's is helping develop a recyclable and/or compostable cup through the NextGen Cup Consortium and Challenge. Both efforts are part of McDonald's Scale for Good initiative, a global commitment to use its size and scale to drive meaningful change.
Both Ford and McDonald's plan to continue exploring ways to collaboratively use waste as a resource, while furthering their own sustainability goals.