Engineers at Ford Motor Co. have partnered with researchers at Rice University to transform plastic components into a revolutionary material called graphene, which provides increased strength and reduced cabin noise in vehicles.
Science Direct describes graphene as an atomically thin two-dimensional carbonaceous nanomaterial, which has “attracted tremendous research interest in both scientific studies and technological development due to its exceptional electric, mechanical, and chemical properties.”
Having known of its existence since 1916, however not being extracted from graphite until 2004 when isolated by researchers at the University of Manchester, it is the thinnest material ever discovered
The world’s standard for automobile ownership is increasingly, as people realized that at the end of a vehicle’s life, it must be destroyed, which causes unnecessary waste to pile up in junk yards.
Deborah Mielewski, technical fellow for sustainability at Ford, stated the United States destroys between 10 to 15 million vehicles each year. Ford’s goal is to take plastic from their End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) to convert into graphene to create new and improved vehicles as well as improve the company’s environmental footprint.
“Bumpers, gaskets carpets, mats, seating, and door casings derived from ELV Ford Motor Company F-150 pickup trucks were milled together to demonstrate the general process applicability,” authors wrote in the journal Communications Engineering, detailing Ford’s process of recycling ELV waste into graphene.
Polyurethane foam (PUF) materials “are used extensively in automobile components that require sound damping and vibration management, including engine covers, dashboard silencers, seat cushions, and more,” the journal noted.
“In Europe, cars come back to the manufacturer, which is allowed to landfill only 5 percent of a vehicle,” said James Tour, a researcher leading the team at Rice. “That means they must recycle 95 percent, and it’s just overwhelming to them.”
The work between Ford and Rice University means that the car company sends ELV materials to the team at Rice to turn the plastic parts into graphene using a flash Joule heating process, which is then sent back to Ford.
“We flashed it, we sent the graphene back to Ford, they put it into new foam composites and it did everything it was supposed to do,” Tour said. “Then they sent us the new composites and we flashed those and turned them back into graphene. It’s a great example of circular recycling.”