"The traditional production model is very linear," he said. "You make products, you use them, and you dispose of them. We must reconsider that model."
The problem with the linear manufacturing model is that it assumes raw materials are cheap and plentiful, Mr. Masson said. But it is increasingly obvious that they can and will be depleted.
"The goal is to discover how to increase the uptake of sustainable materials," he said. "In the design of new mobility products, we need a more sustainable, circular economic model with shorter-loop recycling."
Ford always has been in the vanguard of researching sustainable materials, beginning with Henry Ford himself, according to Deborah Mielewski, senior technical leader, materials sustainability at Ford.
"Henry Ford believed that agriculture and industry should work together in the development of plant-based materials," she said. "Once a great idea, always a great idea."
Ford was famous for using soybeans to make car parts, as well as agricultural byproducts such as wheat straw to make steering wheels, Ms. Mielewski said.
"He convinced farmers to grow soybeans, then bought them back from them," she said.
Today, Ford still uses soybeans — half a trillion in the past 10 years — for parts, and wheat straw to make storage bins, Ms. Mielewski said.
"Farmers would have burned the wheat straw in the fields," she said. "But they need that straw to make ends meet."
Soybeans and wheat straw are far from the only plant-based products Ford uses, the Ford exec said. The auto maker uses coconut hulls for truck mats, cellulose from tree fiber, pulp from the lumber industry, flax fiber, and rice hulls for parts in the F-150 pickup, she said.
"There's a huge excess of tomato seeds and peels from the tomato processing industry," she said. "We're drying that material and using it as a reinforcing fiber in plastics."
Ford's drive to find new, sustainable materials to build autos has led it to collaborate with companies in other industries, such as Coca-Cola Co. and Nike Inc., according to Ms. Mielewski.
"This never happens in the auto industry," she said.
Shoe soles from Nike are proving useful, and PET bottles from Coca-Cola are being used in applications for the entire interiors of cars, she said.
One of Ford's most interesting collaborations is with spirits producer Tequila Cuervo La Rojeña, S.A. de C.V., according to Ms. Mielewski.
"We take the fiber from agave that's left over after they've finished processing it," she said. "We've been drying it and putting it in composites. We're pretty close to adding it to our regularly used materials."
The auto maker even is investigating the use of carbon dioxide as a feedstock for polyols and polyesters. "We can solve our own pollution problem by using the pollutant itself," she said.
Ford also has been investigating the use of algae in making polyols for urethanes, she added.
"Algae grows incredibly fast," she said. "It multiplies four times a day. I think we can use it to replace petroleum entirely."
Movin'On, the Michelin-sponsored conference on advanced mobility technology was held in Montreal May 30-June 1.