Ford Licenses Soy Seating Alternative to John Deere

Ford and John Deere last week announced they have agreed that Deere will further develop and manufacture Ford’s soy-based flexible foam for seating materials in tractors, riding mowers and other equipment.

Ford first introduced soy-based polyol to the auto industry in the seat backs and seat cushions of the 2008 Ford Mustang. The 2008 Ford F-150, Expedition and Lincoln Navigator now also feature this eco-friendly technology, with the next application coming on the 2009 Ford Escape. Meanwhile, Deere has used soy-based products for body panels on some farm equipment.

Ford will work with John Deere and its seat supplier, Sears Manufacturing Co., to bring this greener alternative to traditional seat foam to fields and even backyards nationwide.

“As all of industry faces daunting sustainability challenges, Ford is pioneering renewable solutions and forging strategic partnerships to extend our capabilities and our ability to innovate,” said Gerhardt Schmidt, vice president, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering. “We are pleased to collaborate with John Deere to continue the development of soy-based foam and research other technologies to benefit both our industries.”

Ford’s soy-based foam will be developed for use in the seat backs, seat cushions, arm rests and head rests of John Deere equipment, which is used in agriculture, forestry, construction, and lawn and turf care.

Soy-based foam is just one of the technologies Ford Global Technologies, LLC is making available through licensing to companies such as John Deere for applications outside Ford.

Ford has a history in incorporating soy-based materials into its products. The Model T, for example, once contained 60 pounds of soybeans in its paint and molded plastic parts. Ford again showcased its work with soy foams in 2003 on the Model U concept, which featured soy-based seat cushions as well as a soy-based resin composite tailgate.

Now, Ford’s Plastics Research team has formulated the chemistry to replace a staggering 40 percent of the standard petroleum-based polyol used in seating materials with a soy-derived material. This breakthrough will make a significant impact on the environment while reducing dependency on imported petroleum.

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, soy-based products have only one-quarter of the level of total environmental impact of petroleum-based products. Most automakers today use 100 percent petroleum-based polyol foam. Each vehicle contains an average of 30 pounds of petroleum-based foam in its seat backs, seat cushions, armrests, instrument panels and headliners.

“As we continue to migrate this green technology across many vehicle platforms, we’re improving our environmental footprint by conserving limited resources and reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Debbie Mielewski, technical leader, Ford Plastics Research.

Ford is working closely with the United Soybean Board to bring soy foam to the automotive market. The company is using 2.2 million pounds of soy foam in the 2008 Mustang alone. Just based on that application, this green alternative is on track to deliver a carbon dioxide reduction of 605,000 pounds annually.

With more than 3 billion bushels of soy harvested in the U.S. each year, Ford could potentially use up to 844 million bushels of soy throughout its product lineup annually.

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