Ford using McDonald's coffee bean skin in car parts

John Beltz Snyder

Did you know coffee beans have skin? They do, and those skins are removed before roasting the beans. Instead of simply discarding that chaff, Ford wants to turn it into car parts. In the process, McDonald’s is becoming part of the automotive supply chain, providing Ford with bean skins to work into components like headlight housings.

Here’s how it works: the skin, or chaff, is heated up and mixed with plastic, then formed into pellets. Those pellets are then molded into car parts. In addition to being durable, the resulting parts are 20% lighter, and require less energy to mold. As Ford Senior Technical Leader of Sustainable Materials, Debbie Mielewski, tells her McDonald’s counterpart in the above video, “The material is even better than what we currently use … No compromise. It’s better.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time Ford has experimented with innovative materials to make its cars more sustainable. Back in 2007, it started using soybean-based foam in its seats and headliners (interestingly, Henry Ford tinkered with the idea of a soy-based car body back in 1941). Ford has since used recycled plastic bottles, wheat straw, shredded money, rice hulls, bamboo, agave fiber, tomato skins and captured carbon in its vehicles.

Ford isn’t the only outfit using waste products and sustainable, natural materials in its cars. Dandelion latex shows promise for tires and other parts, and Goodyear also notes waste products from sugar cane, corn stover, switchgrass and rice husk ash show potential. Michelin throws wood chips and orange peels into the mix. Ohio State University is researching using tomato skin and eggshells in car parts.

So the next time you enjoy a cup of coffee, don’t just think about how weird the idea of bean skin sounds, think about how it could make your car greener.