As part of its commitment to increase the use of renewable materials in vehicle components, Ford's European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany, is investigating an innovative, new wood-plastic-compound (WPC), so-called liquid wood. The new material is being assessed in a three-year project which started in May 2009. The project is publicly funded within the framework of a technology and innovation programme in Germany's North-Rhine Westphalia region.
The new processing for liquid wood is derived from a rubber compounding process. The compound of wood and plastics prevents water absorption and thus increases the material's durability. The fact that untreated wood, and even wood waste, can be used makes the application environmentally attractive.
Another advantage: The new processing technology significantly improves the sealing of the wood fibres and insulates unpleasant odours. Therefore, the material can also be used in the vehicle interior, for example with trim parts. Another area where liquid wood application could be used is in the engine compartment, with components such as the battery tray.
Previous analyses have shown that the recyclability of liquid wood is excellent because the material can be reprocessed up to five times. Therefore the overall CO2 balance is almost neutral.
Until now, liquid wood has only been used for high-quality household terrace building panels which do not have to be moulded. This is important because its viscosity impairs mouldability. With a high portion of wood (between 60 and 80 percent), this viscosity made it unsuitable for conventional injection moulding, which is the only economical manufacturing process for the mass production of components such as plastic parts. This is one of the most prominent issues being addressed by the assessment project.
The usage of renewable resources has a major role in Ford's environmental strategy. The objective is to further increase the portion of natural materials in the development of new models. Currently, some 290 parts are already derived from renewable resources, such as from cotton, wood, flax, hemp, jute fibre and natural rubber.
Among the project partners are the University of Paderborn, machine and material manufacturers and organisations in the compounding and packaging industry. The State of North Rhine Westphalia provides a funding of approximately €400.000, a large percentage of the total overall budget of more than a €1 million.