Ford, McDonald's team up to turn coffee byproducts into car parts

'The traditional materials are great but not impossible to replace'

Ford and McDonald's have teamed up to make car parts out of coffee byproducts as the companies further their commitments to environmental sustainability.

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Ford is using the fast-food chain's coffee chaff, which is the husk of the coffee bean that comes off during roasting and is typically thrown away, to manufacture select car parts such as headlamp housings and other interior and underhood components.

TickerSecurityLastChangeChange %
FFORD MOTOR COMPANY9.02+0.09+1.01%
MCDMCDONALD'S CORP.195.35+1.14+0.59%

Conversations regarding the collaboration sparked two years ago after Ford recognized McDonald's commitment to innovation matched its "forward-thinking vision and action for sustainability."

“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,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team.

The companies discovered the millions of pounds of coffee chaff produced every year could be made into a durable material that can reinforce certain vehicle parts. Now, a significant portion of the fast-food chain’s coffee chaff in North America will be directed toward this use.

"The traditional materials are great but not impossible to replace with better, higher preforming and better for the earth, sustainable materials."

- Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader, sustainability and emerging materials research team

The collaboration marks the latest effort by both companies in furthering their sustainability goals. The automaker is working toward using recycled and renewable plastics in vehicles across the globe with an increasing range of sustainable materials.

“We will eliminate single-use plastics from our operations by 2030,” Ford said on its website.

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McDonald’s is also working toward sourcing all of its packagings from renewable, recycled or certified sources by 2025.

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“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 of global sustainability at 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.”

The durable material is created by heating the waste to high temperatures under low oxygen and mixing it with plastic and other additives, turning it into pellets. Those pellets can then be formed into various shapes and can help create components of a car that require up to 25 percent less energy during the molding process, Ford said. The components will also be 20 percent lighter.

Ford told FOX Business that customers who purchase the Lincon Continental this month will be able to see the material in action. The company expects to further migrate the material within other vehicles beginning in 2020.

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Varroc Lighting Systems, which supplies the headlamps, and Competitive Green Technologies, the processor of the coffee chaff, are also involved in the collaboration.

Ford and McDonald's plan to continue exploring ways to collaboratively use waste as a resource.