Ford looks to lizards to make eco-friendly car parts

Ever heard of biomimicry?
by Drei Laurel | Nov 2, 2015
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Gecko

Mankind has thought up countless potential ideas to help in the fight to preserve our environment. We've set up solar-power plants that stretch out for acres, built wind turbines hundreds of feet high, and produced millions of emission-free vehicles all in an effort to keep this planet green. That's all well and good, but sometimes, the most impactful solutions to humanity's problems can be found in the smallest of things.

Enter biomimicry--an approach to science that aims to find sustainable answers to challenges via nature's time-tested designs and solutions. The Wright Brothers looked to the birds, while Japan's world-renowned Shinkansen bullet train took inspiration from the kingfisher's piercing beak. In Ford Motor Company's case, researchers are looking into the possibility of tapping the gecko's natural adhesive to make auto parts more recyclable.

The answer lies in the gecko's toe pads. You see, using glues in auto manufacturing pretty much makes disassembling and recycling used car parts impossible. The gecko's toe pads are naturally able to maintain a grip on nearly every surface--an amazing feat considering a 2.5-ounce gecko can support up to 293lb of weight proportional to its size. Being able to mimic the lizard's adhesive qualities could open doors to solutions both in terms of sustainability and innovation.

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Ford senior technical leader for plastics and sustainability research Debbie Mielewski says that if studies prove to be fruitful, the auto industry could save both on cost and the environment as well. "Solving this problem could provide cost savings and certainly environmental savings," the executive said. "It means we could increase the recycling of more foam and plastics, and further reduce our environmental footprint."

This isn't the first time the American carmaker has turned to nature for inspiration in making its vehicles. Ford design teams have previously found success in producing yarn out of 100% recycled materials for use as seating fabrics.

 

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Mankind has thought up hundreds, if not thousands of potential ideas to help in the fight to preserve our environment. We've set up solar power plants that stretch out for acres, built wind turbines hundreds of feet high and produced millions of emission-free vehicles all in an effort to keep this planet green. That's all well and good, but sometimes, the most impactful solutions to humanity's problems can be found in the smallest packages.

Enter biomimicry--an approach to science which aims to find sustainable answers to challenges via nature's time-tested designs and solutions. The Wright Brothers looked to the birds, while Japan's world-renowned Shinkansen bullet train took inspiration from the kingfisher's piercing beak. In Ford's case, company researchers are looking into the possibility of tapping the gecko's natural adhesive to make auto parts more recyclable.

The answer lies in the gecko's toe pads. You see, using glues in auto manufacturing pretty much makes disassembling and recycling used auto parts impossible. The gecko's toe pads are naturally able to maintain a grip on nearly every surface--an amazing feat considering a 2.5 ounce gecko can support up to 293lbs of weight proportional to its size. Being able to mimic the lizard's adhesive qualities could open doors to solutions both in terms of sustainability and innovation.

Ford senior technical leader for plastics and sustainability research Debbie Mielewski says that if the research proves to be fruitful, the auto industry could save both on cost and the environment as well. "Solving this problem could provide cost savings and certainly an environmental savings," the executive said. "It means we could increase the recycling of more foam and plastics, and further reduce our environmental footprint."

This isn't the first time the American car maker has turned to nature for inspiration in making their vehicles. Ford design teams have previously found success in producing yarn to be used as seating fabrics out of 100% recycled materials. While Ford isn't exactly known for making environmentally friendly vehicles, developments give us the impression that the company is pointed towards the right direction. What else could biomimicry offer the auto industry in the coming years?

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