Ford turns McDonald’s coffee waste to headlamps’ cases, other parts

Ford is set to combat climate change as it recycles old coffee waste sourced from McDonald’s into auto parts. The American automaker is expected to take the food waste from the fast-food giant, divert it from a landfill to its laboratory and get it engineered into bioplastics.

Why it matters: In addition to curbing climate change, the global brand is also committed to reducing food waste, to make effort to make car parts lighter, use less petroleum, and lower CO2 emissions.

The auto industry is under enormous pressure to reduce tailpipe emissions and increase the production of electric vehicles. Over a quarter of all carbon emissions are from the transportation sector.

Senior Technical Leader, Materials Sustainability, Ford, Debbie Mielewski, explained that traditionally, his company uses plastic and talc to make its headlamp housing but the coffee version is more sustainable because it’s lighter and doesn’t use the talc, which as a mineral isn’t renewable.

She said, “Coffee chaff is widely available and much of it goes to waste. Eventually, Ford hopes to incorporate the material into more cars and use it for more parts. Ford decided to work with coffee chaff a few years ago. But it’s been experimenting with organic materials for over a decade. If you came to our lab, it looks somewhere between a landfill and a farm.”  

The process: Ford stated, “Every year, millions of pounds of coffee chaff, which is the dried skin of the bean that naturally comes off during the roasting process, are turned into garden mulch or charcoal in North America.  

“Together, Ford and McDonald’s can provide an innovative new home to a significant portion of that material. The duo found 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. 

“The chaff composite meets the quality specifications for parts like headlamp housings and other interior and underhood components. The resulting components will be about 20% lighter and require up to 25% less energy during the moulding process. Heat properties of the chaff component are significantly better than the currently used material.” 

Ford has set a goal for itself to only use recycled and renewable plastics in its global vehicle fleet.

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