In a significant environmental advance for the automotive industry, engineers at Johnson Controls have developed a new type of foam pads used in automotive seats that are comprised of five percent soy-based products and 95 percent polyurethane. Soy-based seat systems from the company will be featured on numerous model-year 2008 production vehicles.
“As the leading global supplier of automotive seating and interiors – and the world’s largest molder of automotive urethane foam – we are strongly committed to developing and using eco-friendly materials that come from renewable sources,” said Charlie Baker, group vice president of engineering-worldwide, for Johnson Controls’ automotive experience business. “Using greater quantities of bio-materials, such as soy, also can help cut the industry’s reliance on petroleum-based products.”
Conventional foam pads in automotive seats are made from 100 percent petroleum-based polyurethane. Engineers at Johnson Controls replaced five percent of the total pad weight with soy oil, a byproduct of livestock feed. The new seat foam pads were thoroughly evaluated, and their total performance – in durability, shape and comfort – matches the performance of conventional foam.
“Switching to a five percent soy composition in seat foam will be transparent to consumers in terms of product performance,” said Baker. “But when automakers and suppliers make environmental improvements in their products, those efforts can ultimately deliver strong benefits to the general public.”
“In contrast to petroleum, soy and other plant-based products are abundant, renewable, and tend to have more stable market pricing,” said Baker.
Currently, Johnson Controls molds more than 100 million pounds of urethane foam annually for automotive seats supplied to automakers in North America. If soy foam pads were utilized in all of these seats, instead of conventional urethane foam, the company would reduce its use of non-renewable, petroleum-based products by several million pounds.
It is a bigger challenge to engineer soy based foam for seat cushions and seat backs because of higher performance requirements when compared to foam required for headrests and armrests. Nonetheless, engineers at Johnson Controls targeted the use of soy foam for seat cushions and seat backs because the potential environmental benefits are more significant.
Typically, a complete set of seats for a vehicle is comprised of 25 to 30 pounds of urethane material for seat cushions and seatbacks vs. 2 to 5 pounds of urethane for headrests and armrests combined. Utilizing soy-based foam for seat cushions and seatbacks offers a larger overall opportunity for reducing the use of petroleum-based materials when compared to using a higher percentage of soy for smaller parts.
According to Baker, Johnson Controls aims – eventually – to create a viable foam product with even higher soy composition. “We have the processes already in place to move toward this goal,” said Baker. “Johnson Controls will apply lessons learned today with environmentally-friendly materials to create the high-performance, earth-friendly products of the future,” said Baker.
Johnson Controls is a global leader in automotive experience, building efficiency and power solutions. The company provides innovative automotive interiors that help make driving more comfortable, safe and enjoyable. For buildings, it offers products and services that optimize energy use and improve comfort and security.
Johnson Controls also provides batteries for automobiles and hybrid electric vehicles, along with systems engineering and service expertise. Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI) has 136,000 employees in more than 1,000 locations serving customers in 125 countries. Founded in 1885, the company is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For additional information.
Source: Johnson Controls, press release, 2007-01-09.