There’s about 30 lbs. of polyurethane foam in the average vehicle. It’s in everything from headrests to seats and instrument panels. And usually, a key ingredient in that foam is petroleum.
But Ford Motor Company is experimenting with swapping out the petroleum for something that’s abundant in today’s environment: carbon dioxide.
“We conserve petroleum, we better the atmosphere and we make a very suitable material to use out of carbon dioxide,” saidDebbie Mielewski, Ford’s senior technical leader of sustainability.
Carbon dioxide is, of course, naturally in the atmosphere. But it’s also emitted from burning fossil fuels, and climate scientists have linked the earth’s quickly rising CO2 levels with climate change.
Ford’s new foam relies on a partnership with a company called Novomer that harvests waste carbon dioxide from sources like fossil fuel plants. Carbon capture technology hasn’t been proven to be economical on a large scale thus far.
But Mielewski said projects like Ford’s that create a market for the waste product might help tip the scales in the technology’s favor.
“We were told at the beginning of the project that this was never going to work,” she said. “Using carbon dioxide as a feedstock was too difficult, too energy-consuming, would be too expensive, and we’ve worked really hard and come to the point where we think it’s economically feasible, better for the planet and will meet all the customers’ needs.”
Mielewski said Ford could be using the new CO2 foam in its vehicles in the next five years. And she added there are other products — like mattresses and office furniture — that also rely on polyurethane foam and could potentially switch to using waste carbon dioxide.