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Ford To Use Kenaf Plant Materials In New Escape

| Tuesday January 31st, 2012 | 6 Comments

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.


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  • Guest

    Absolutely foolish.  Now that you’ve got plastic mixed with plant fiber, how are you going to recycle that?  What does one do with that material at the end of life that’s “green”?  Oh, right….burn it because that’s sustainable.  Good greenwash by Ford.

    • Info

      Kenaf fibers offer an excellent alternative to fiberglass. The point is not recycling but optimizing LCA. Toyota uses also kenaf fibers its car production and several EU-companies try to exploit this fiber in various applications e.g. insulation panels, absorbing materials…

      • Guest

        Anyone that knows Life Cycle Thinking and practices LCA would never discount recycling and then say that adding kenaf is optimizing LCA because such a statement is a non sequitur.  This is attempting to lower the impacts from of energy impacts of fiber glass and then he consequence is that you ruin the end of life.  Sorry, but that’s not optimizing anything.

  • Philip J. Covington

    Thanks for your comment, combining materials is often a bad idea. But it is possible to recycle polypropylene/kenaf composites. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/pi.2470/abstract
    I don’t have data on how extensive the recycling is for this material, but in theory, if the material saves oil and can be recycled too, then it’s better from an LCA perspective.

  • Carol Cross

    I am a grower of kenaf and would like to invite those
    interested in having people join with me in growing kenaf in Belize.  I will be joining with  Bill Loftus to put on a 12 day workshop on
    growing, harvesting, processing and using kenaf in Williston, Florida in
    September 2012.  I will be joint
    venturing with Ecologic Technology Institute to put on a kenaf workshop in
    Atlanta, Georgia in August 2012. If you want to know more about kenaf join the
    kenaf community on facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/kenafcommunity.  You may also visit my website
    http://www.solarentrep.com/kenaf_home.htm

  • Phuongngan

    We are seller of Kenaf fibers in Vietnam. We are looking for the manufaturers who would like to use kenaf fiber as materials. Please contact us: Ms. Ngan 0084-903 117 068