DETROIT — Canadian research and an Ontario biomaterials company have allowed Ford Motor Co. and McDonald’s to brew up a way to make some vehicle parts lighter and more sustainable while reducing waste.
The automaker is using coffee-bean remnants from McDonald's to make headlight housings for the Lincoln Continental.
Ford plans to use the composite material in a number of vehicles, including the Mustang. McDonald's said it would donate "a significant portion" of its North American coffee chaff to the cause.
"McDonald's commitment to innovation was impressive to us and matched our own forward-thinking vision and action for sustainability," Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader of Ford's sustainability and emerging materials research team, said in a statement. "This has been a priority for Ford for over 20 years, and this is an example of jump-starting the closed-loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that otherwise would be side or waste products."
The idea was born — and patented — out of the University of Guelph, where researchers were looking for organic alternatives for polymers used in plastics. Coffee bean skins, like they do during the roasting process, rose to the top and were identified as one of the most useful and scalable materials.
That’s where Competitive Green Technologies, which is headquartered in nearby Waterloo but has a manufacturing plant in Leamington, Ont., stepped in, providing the technology to turn the coffee bean skins into resin that can be used in the auto industry.
Prior to the Canadian breakthrough, coffee chaff was either thrown on fields or burned.
“It was really a nuisance for coffee-roasting companies,” Competitive Green Technologies CEO Atul Bali told Automotive News Canada. “In fact, people were being paid to take it away.”
Ford convinced McDonalds to divert their coffee waste to Competitive Green Technologies, which manufactures the resin in Leamington.
“This is truly a Canadian invention,” Atul said. “We’re the only company in the whole world that is licensed to do this.”
The headlight housings are then molded by Varroc Lighting Systems, which is based in nearby Plymouth Michigan.
Atul said it takes the skins of 392,000 coffee beans to make one housing unit. McDonalds throws away 1.2 million pounds of coffee bean skins each week.
Ford has a long history of using sustainable materials to build vehicles. Company founder Henry Ford used soybean-based plastics in his products.
In recent years, Mielewski's team has used agave plants, dandelions, tomato skins and shredded money, among other materials. Many of the materials come from partners including Jose Cuervo, Coca-Cola and Nike.