Ford to make car parts from Ontario soya: Grain Farmers of Ontario

by Patrycja Klucznik

15 Nov. 2009

Walking by Katz’s Deli on Dufferin Street in Toronto on any given day, there is often a van parked in the parking lot with these words in small print along the side: “In the interest of energy conservation, this truck has been repowered to run on chicken soup.”

What if it were?

Running vehicles on natural resources is not as new as some may think.  Henry Ford was ahead of the game when he incorporated soybean oil and meal into the manufacturing of cars in the 1930s, according to SoyInfo Center.com.  Nearly 80 years later, the technology is being reincorporated into everything from foam headrests to wall paint.

The various automotive uses for soy were displayed Thursday at this year’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair held at the Canadian National Exhibition grounds.

Kim Schwering, the executive assistant and promotion event manager at Grain Farmers of Ontario as well as executive assistant at Ontario Soybean Growers, compared the use of soy in common, commercially available products to rejuvenating the old with the new.

“Now we’re almost reinventing the wheel,” said Schwering, as she handed out box after box of soy crayons to children walking into her exhibit.

Schwering maintained that Ford as a company today is replacing certain plastics used in their foam and seat cushions with a soy alternative.  According to Schwering, the entire bean can essentially be used, whether for livestock feed or headrests in cars, with virtually no waste.

“I think a lot of people now are getting into it. This was a record year for us as farmers, with 28,000 farmers in Ontario that grow on 5 million acres of land – 2.4 million acres this year was soybeans,” Schwering said.

Murray Booth, the business development manager for Soy 20/20, a project that brings together “government, academic and industry partners together to stimulate and seize new global bioscience opportunities for Canadian soybeans,” according to their website, heralded the use of soy as a means for supporting Ontario’s economy.

It would use home grown resources, as well as “help the farmer and relieve our dependency on oil,” he said.

Booth held up and sqeezed a small sample of soy-based foam in order to emphasize the quality of the product used now in the 2008 Mustang.

“When you look at the new Mustangs, it’s used in the bumpers, soy’s used in the headrest, and it’s used in the foam. Ford wouldn’t have been looking at it years ago if it wasn’t any good,” Booth said.

Booth went on to explain that the lack of publicity has to do with the relatively small soy industry in Canada when compared with the United States.

“In the U.S. it’s big time, they advertise it more. In Ontario we have 3 million acres of soy, in the U.S. you have 28 million acres of soy,” Booth said.

If the auto industry is waking up to the fact that energy-efficient cars are increasing in demand, and renewable resources are the way of the future, why is the fact that soy-based products are being used in these vehicles not highly advertised? Upon close inspection of Ford’s website, not a single mention was made of soy products, although many other environmental initiatives were explained.

An information pamphlet that Soy 20/20 was distributing at the exhibit  quoted Ford promising that “by the end of 2009, the company estimates that more than one million of its vehicles will be equipped with soy foam seats.”

Although Booth acknowledged that soy would never realistically replace oil in terms of usage and dependency, he predicted increased publicity of natural products like soy being used to manufacture cars could potentially breathe fresh air into the ailing automotive industry. According to Booth, increased infrastructure such as the proposed soy-crushing plant that is to be built in Sarnia, Ontario within the next three years, would increase overall awareness and publicity of soy and soy-based products.

Schwering also had a positive outlook on the future of soy, from the growers’ perspective.

“We’re getting there,” Schwering beamed.

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