Ford and BASF have teamed to reduce petroleum-based fossil fuel content in the instrument panel of the new Ford Focus.

"Working with BASF, we now can offer our North American customers the new Ford Focus with the industry's first soft-touch instrument panel that's stronger, better-looking and better on the environment," said Ford advanced product development engineer Bari Brown.

"Castor oil from plants helps deliver sustainable interior foam that reduces petroleum use while improving vehicle craftsmanship. It's beneficial both for the customer and mother nature."

Castor oil is derived from the Ricinus Communis flowering spurge plant, which has widespread growth throughout tropical regions. The plant's oil presents a sustainable interior foam solution that does not compete with food sources.

Ford maintains the new castor oil-based foam is significantly more durable than the previously used material, with a 36% better tensile strength, a measure of the foam's ability to hold its shape. Tear strength is improved by 5% while elongation - stretch under temperature or impact stress - is reduced by almost 12%.

Productivity is improved and the manufacturing process is simplified by the 43% reduction in time for the castor oil-based foam product to cure. Scrap from this foam product is reduced due to improved flow and processing characteristics.

"Working with Ford on the first castor oil-based foam is an example of two industry leaders focused on speed-to-market made possible by collaboration," said BASF Polyurethane Systems vice president Joel Johnson.

"Finding a sustainable product that saves more than 5,000 barrels of oil for every 300,000 Ford Focus models produced in North America is a very exciting solution for all of us."

Ford says it has concentrated on increasing the use of non-metal recycled and bio-based materials whenever possible provided these materials are environmentally favourable and meet all performance and durability requirements.

Examples include soy foam seat cushions and gaskets, wheat straw-filled storage bins, recycled resins for under-body systems, recycled yarns on seat covers and natural-fibre plastic for interior components.