Ford To Use Kenaf Plant Materials In New Escape

Image from Ford Motor Company Digital Media

Following Ford’s recent announcement that they will use recycled plastic bottles for seat fabrics in the upcoming Focus Electric, the company’s efforts to increase the use of sustainable materials continues with the news that they will use kenaf plant fiber material for interior door bolsters for the new Escape.

Kenaf, blended with polypropylene in a 50-50 mixture, will reduce the door component’s weight by 25% compared with conventional materials, while use of the plant fiber, Ford claims, will offset 300,000 pounds of oil-based resins annually in North America.

If you’re unfamiliar with Kenaf, here’s a little bit about this versatile material, as well as other eco-friendly attributes of the new Escape.

While Kenaf is native to Africa and is related to cotton, okra and hibiscus, it’s adapted to grow in the southern United States and parts of California. The crop matures in about 150 days, and grows anywhere between 8 to 20 feet tall, but unlike its cousin, cotton, requires much less use of pesticides.  The fibers from harvested kenaf have a great range of uses and can be found in rope, paper and building materials such as fiber board and insulation, as well as animal forage, animal litter, and a fiberglass substitute in molded plastic.

According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource center, world leaders in Kenaf production are India and China, though Ford’s press release does not specify the source of the material that will be used in the Escape. International Automotive Components (IAC) will manufacture the door bolsters for Ford.

The new Escape will feature other eco-friendly materials in addition to Kenaf. Soy foam will appear in the seats and head restraints, while recycled plastic bottles and other post consumer materials will go into carpeting material. 10lbs of scrap cotton from the manufacturing of denim jeans and  recycled tires constitute other sources of reclaimed content for the vehicle. Ford says the new Escape will be 85% recyclable when it reaches end-of-life, while they project best-in-class fuel economy when it goes on sale this spring.

Phil Covington holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School. In the past, he spent 16 years in the freight transportation and logistics industry. Today, Phil's writing focuses on transportation, forestry, technology and matters of sustainability in business.