One for the road: Ford and McDonald’s to turn coffee waste into car parts

Waste coffee from McDonald’s is to be turned into new, lightweight car parts under a new partnership announced between the fast food giant and the carmaker Ford.

Researchers from the two companies found that coffee chaff — the dried skin on the bean that naturally comes off during the roasting process — can be converted into a durable material to reinforce vehicle parts, such as headlamp housing.

By heating the chaff to high temperatures under low-oxygen, mixing it with plastic and other additives and turning it into pellets, the material can be formed into various shapes.

The innovation will help make Ford car parts about 20 percent lighter and provide up to 25 percent energy savings during the molding of parts. The heat properties of the chaff components are significantly better than the material currently used, Ford said.

Ford and McDonald’s said that the partnership would see a “significant portion” of the fast food chain’s coffee chaff in North America incorporated into vehicle parts, but was not clear if the idea would be rolled out globally.

Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader in Ford’s sustainability and emerging materials research team, said: “Now is the time to jump-start the closed loop economy, where different industries work together and exchange materials that are either side or waste products.”

Ford has a goal of using only recycled and renewable plastics in its vehicles. The automaker already makes around 300 car parts from renewable materials, including soy, wheat, rice, agave, castor, tomato and tree cellulose.

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