Ford has teamed up with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which has products in the market that use the coir’s natural fibers to hold 50 percent more water than basic potting soil and release it as plants need it and thus helping homeowners save water. The collaboration is researching the use of coconut fiber reinforcement for molded plastic parts to reduce the use of petroleum and make the parts lighter and more natural-looking.

The coconut coir, or husks, are a waste stream from Scotts’ soil and grass seed products. The team is investigating their use as a renewable feedstock for Ford’s vehicles.

“This is a win-win situation. We’re taking a material that is a waste stream from another industry and using it to increase the sustainability in our vehicles,” said Dr. Ellen Lee, technical expert for Plastics Research at Ford. “We continue to search for innovative renewable technologies that can both reduce our dependence on petroleum as well as improve fuel economy.”

Over the past several years, Ford has concentrated on increasing the use of nonmetal recycled and bio-based materials to reduce its carbon footprint. Materials already in use include soy foam seat cushions and head restraints, wheat straw-filled plastic bins and castor oil foam in instrument panels.

“ScottsMiracle-Gro uses more than 70 million pounds of coir a year in our consumer products,” said Dave Swihart, ScottsMiracle-Gro senior vice president of Global Supply Chain. “Teaming up with Ford to find a high-value use for our leftover coir material is very exciting for us as we continually work to make our products and operations more sustainable.”

Ford combines the coconut coir with plastic to provide additional reinforcement, reducing the quantity of plastic required and thereby reducing petroleum required for making that part. Ford intends to leave the natural long fibers visible in the plastic and offer a more natural look than typical materials. In the interior, the material could be used in storage bins, door trim, seat trim or center console substrates. It could also potentially be used on underbody and exterior trim.

Ford is currently testing the material’s properties to ensure it passes all of the company’s durability tests. Coconut coir is very difficult to burn, and Ford is researching whether it has natural flame-retardant properties.

Some of you might remember the patent that was granted and later revoked for an anti-fungal product derived from neem. We hope the parties involved in this research understand that India and a number of other countries in the tropics have been using coconut coir in a number of unimaginable ways and so restrain from patenting applications of coconut coir, especially if people have been doing it for a long time already.