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Dr. Ellen Lee: Impassioned Environmentalist at Ford Motor

  • Broadcast in Environment
Southeast Green

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Ellen Lee: Impassioned Environmentalist Believes Sustainability Equals Sensibility in Both Vehicles and Life

Who: Ellen Lee, technical expert, plastics research
Role: Researcher working to replace traditional, petroleum-based plastics with alternative composites that are better for the environment and the customer

Did you know? Lee enjoys reading cookbooks like most people read novels

Visit Ellen Lee at her home in Ann Arbor, Mich., and chances are better than average she’ll be outside, working in the garden.

“We grow...a little bit of everything,” she says, laughing. “I love fresh vegetables. We have 10 raised beds, and that’s not enough. Every year, I say, ‘I need more room!’’’

Lee’s green thumb shouldn’t surprise anyone. At Ford, Lee is part of a unique team that works to make products more sustainable through science and technology innovation. The team researches traditional, petroleum-based plastics and looks to Mother Nature to create alternate composites that are durable, lightweight and better for the environment.

These all-new composite recipes include more natural ingredients, such as soy oil, wheat straw fiber, cellulose and the sugars in corn, sugarbeets and sugarcane.

“One of our biggest success stories so far is soy foam,” Lee says. All Ford North American-built vehicles use bio-based foam in seat cushions and backs. Ford’s use of bio-based foam has helped the company reduce its petroleum oil use by more than 3 million pounds annually and carbon dioxide emissions by more than 15 million pounds.

Even more recently, Ford and Lear Corporation introduced a new head restraint foam with 25 percent of the polyol replaced with soy.