The last thing I think of when I hear the words “plastic composite” is plant-based material. However, a partnership between Ford and Weyerhauser has led to the development of plastic composites made out of cellulose instead of fiberglass. The new cellulose-based composite may even make its way into a Ford vehicle, increasing the automaker’s use of sustainable materials in its product lineup.


Components made using the cellulose-based composite weigh about 10 percent less than the non-cellulose part. Additionally, these parts can be produced 20 to 40 percent faster than their traditional counterparts. The quicker production cycle reduces energy use and could ultimately reduce component costs.


The cellulose fibers used during this partnership came from sustainably grown and harvested trees and also from by-products like wood chips and sawdust.


“Cellulose fiber is a great renewable resource that already has established infrastructure around the world, making it an ideal material for Ford’s global products,” said Ellen Lee, a plastic research technical expert at Ford.


While no cellulose-based products are currently used in Ford vehicles, the company tested a prototype armrest and determined that there are multiple possible applications for cellulose use in both the interior and exterior. If cellulose products do make it to market, they will join Ford’s other sustainably-sourced materials , which includes recycled plastic bottles that have been converted into seat fabric and recycled blue jeans used as sound-dampening material in the Ford Fusion.


Photo: Ford

Ford and Weyerhauser develop cellulose-based plastic
The two companies have found an automotive use for a plastic composite material made out of cellulose.