• coffee chaff

Ford Turning McDonald's Coffee Into Car Parts

By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource.

Evan Williams By: Evan Williams December 4, 2019

If you rely on a morning cup of coffee to make sure you’re bright-eyed on the way to work, you’re not alone. Ford’s looking at using coffee to help make the bright eyes of its cars in a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly way.

It’s a partnership between Ford and McDonald’s to turn a waste product into a valuable product, giving a caffeine boost to the quest to use less petroleum-based plastic. It takes coffee chaff, which is the dried skin of the coffee bean, which is really the pit inside a coffee cherry.

The chaff naturally falls off during the roasting process, and that means that millions of kilos of coffee chaff are created every single year. While previously waste, the two companies learned that it can be turned into a new composite material that’s good enough for car parts.

When heated in a low-oxygen environment and mixed with plastic and other additives, it can be pelletized, then formed into complex shapes. Ford can use the material to create headlamp housings as well as other interior and underhood parts. The finished parts are 20 percent lighter and use up to 25 percent less energy to mould. Another benefit, the coffee car parts are significantly better when it comes to dealing with heat than what Ford is using now.

“Like McDonald’s, Ford is committed to minimizing waste and we’re always looking for innovative ways to further that goal.” said Ian Olson, senior director, global sustainability, McDonald’s. “By finding a way to use coffee chaff as a resource, we are elevating how companies together can increase participation in the closed-loop economy. McDonald’s expects “a significant portion” of its coffee chaff in North America to be redirected into vehicle components.

This isn’t the first effort from Ford to use bio-based materials and agricultural by-products in its vehicles to help increase sustainability and reduce petroleum use. Previous efforts started back in 2007, with Ford using soybean-based foam for vehicle seats. Since then, it has expanded the program into using recycled plastics for carpets and wheel liners, rice hulls for wiring harnesses, tomato skins for various brackets, agave fibre for cup holders, and using wheat straw for storage bins. In 2017, the automaker started using captured CO2 from other processes to convert into foam and padding for use in its vehicles.