#TIL: Plastic cars? Here’s spilling the (soy)beans

By Anish Michael

What does soybean have to do with a car? Well, in 1941, Henry Ford attempted to bring farming closer to the automobile industry and built a car made out of soybean! His goal was to make use of renewable products to reduce weight and improve fuel efficiency and circumvent the metal shortage resulting from World War II.

Mystery still surrounds the actual composition used to build the car, however, theories swing between the use of soybeans, wheat, hemp, flax and ramie to just soybean fibre in a formaldehyde mix. Safe to say some form of soybean was used in building the body of the car that was plastic. The vehicle powered by a V8 engine weighed nearly 1,000 pounds less than a traditional steel car and was faster, stronger and more fuel-efficient. Unfortunately for Ford, the outbreak of World War II and the suspension of automobile production halted his efforts to mass-produce plastic-bodied cars.

The legacy of Ford, however, and his dream to amalgamate agriculture and automobiles continues to date. While the soybean car lived a short life, the company continues to use biomaterials in its production. The use of soy foam for headrests, wheat hull-reinforced plastic storage boxes and use of corn to manufacture seat material are some examples.

Food for thought: India generates close to 350 million tonnes of agricultural waste per year. At a time when fuel prices are skyrocketing and we are moving toward green mobility, Henry Ford’s soybean car could be just the inspiration for an automobile green revolution!

Today I Learnt (TIL) is a weekly series by OMI that brings you interesting nuggets of information that you didn’t know you needed.

Follow us on Twitter for regular updates.