Coca-Cola and Ford have come up with a unique approach to advance recyclable packaging: using Coke’s PlantBottle technology to make car seat cushions, seat backs, head restraints, door-panel inserts and headliners in a new concept vehicle for the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid.
Scheduled to be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show later this month, the car will demonstrate the first use of PlantBottle technology, which utilizes plant-based materials, beyond consumer packaging and is the first step in what the two brands say is a joint commitment to develop innovative new products from renewable content.
“It’s important to realize that PET resin is part of the broader polyester family, so this is clearly the most significant partnership we have so far as we look at the broader impact of the potential for the PlantBottle,” Scott Vitters, GM of the PlantBottle packaging platform for Coke, told brandchannel.[more]
For its part, Ford has been working for years with a wide variety of renewable and recyclable materials for some of its interior needs, some of which also have derived from plants. Amy Marentic, global car and crossover group marketing manager for Ford, told brandchannel that the PlantBottle interior for Energi “has huge potential. It’s a nice next step after what we’ve done already with recycled materials in the car.”
Marentic noted that these particular applications of PlantBottle “are only a start” for the automaker in figuring out whether the PET derivative ever could make the grade in production vehicles.
“We’ll show it at the LA show and get customer feedback,” she said. “And through our development process, we’ll want to make sure that it will hold up to people getting in and out, and to the wear caused by blue jeans, and to milk-shake spills. That takes a while. And once we’re there, we’ll have to make decisions on where to go first [in production vehicles] and where to migrate the technology … This is the first toe in the pool.”
For Coca-Cola, however, its first significant use of PlantBottle (which was developed in partnership with Gevo) beyond packaging comprises a major step. “It will spur greater investment in the technology platform as well as catalyze greater environmental change,” Vitters said. “We’ve talked about the potential of this technology, but if we’re holding it to ourselves, we’re not realizing its fullest potential.”
Marentic and Vitters agreed that the biggest impact from the partnership could be on Millennials consumers who, to one degree another, are warier of buying cars and sugary soft drinks than older generations. “Consumers—and particularly Millennials—are looking for companies to be working together on sustainability solutions,” Vitters said.
According to Coca-Cola’s blog post, the partnership evolved organically:
The seeds of the partnership were planted about two years ago, when R&D teams from Coke and Ford came together to talk sustainable innovation. Both companies use PET – a durable, lightweight plastic – in a variety of products, including plastic bottles, fabrics and carpets. And both share a commitment to developing innovative products produced from renewable materials. The conversation quickly turned to PlantBottle.
“Talking to Coke opened our eyes,” said John Viera, global director of sustainability and vehicle environmental matters, Ford Motor Company. “We were already using environmentally friendly fabrics in our vehicles, but we saw an opportunity to take our commitment to the next level through PlantBottle Technology.”
Scientists and engineers at the two companies co-developed a fiber using PlantBottle material that could be woven into durable, automotive-grade PET fabric. Ford is evaluating the potential of using the material in other applications.
The Fusion Energi – Ford’s most fuel-efficient sedan – was the natural choice for a test vehicle, given its “eco-friendly halo.” Other renewable materials are featured throughout the vehicle, from carpet liner made from sound-absorbing denim, to seat-cushion foam made with soybeans.