When you recycle plastic bottles, do you ever stop and think about where that plastic ends up? One answer: Ford vehicles.
Ford Motor Company is helping to play a major role in promoting environmentally friendly auto parts, and one way they’re doing that is by using recycled plastic bottles for underbody shields on all cars and SUVs, and wheel liners on F-series trucks.
“The underbody shield is a large part: If we use solid plastic for a part that big, it would likely weigh three times as much,” said Thomas Sweder, design engineer, Ford Motor Company. “We look for the best materials to work with to make our parts. In this case, we are also benefiting the environment.”
It all started in 2006. Ford was the first automaker to use recycled plastics for wheel liners on the European Escort. Over the last 12 years, aerodynamics have driven the need for underbody shields. The use of plastics in vehicle parts is used globally and has grown exponentially – Ford uses about 1.2 billion recycled plastic bottles per year, about 250 bottles per vehicle on average.
Here’s how it works: when plastic bottles are thrown into a recycling bin, they are collected with thousands of others and shredded into small pieces. These small pieces are typically sold to suppliers who turn the material into a fiber, by melting the pieces down and extruding them. This fiber is then mixed with other types of fiber in a textile process to make a sheet of material, which is used in making automotive parts.
Due to its light weight, recycled plastic is ideal for the manufacture of underbody shields, engine under shield and front and rear wheel arch liners. This light material can also improve vehicle aerodynamics, which effect fuel efficiency. In addition, these shields help create a significantly quieter environment in the new 2020 Ford Escape.
Incorporating recycled plastics into vehicle parts helps reduce the amount of plastic that can end up littering the environment, in areas such as the Pacific gyre, for example – a floating mass of plastic bigger than the size of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean.
“Ford is among the leaders when it comes to using this material,” Sweder said. “We do it because it makes sense technically and economically, as well as environmentally. This material is very well suited for the parts we’re incorporating it in, and is extremely functional.”