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Sustainably Speaking: The EVolution

Listen as innovators and industry experts discuss plastic’s role in electrifying the auto industry

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Each year, we've seen automakers add more electric vehicles to their lineup as they transform cars into high tech and low impact mobility masterpieces. But did you know plastic is already playing a major role in this transition? Durable, lightweight plastic materials are enabling our shift to a low carbon future by helping to increase fuel efficiency and enabling the production of electric vehicle components.

On this episode of Sustainably Speaking, host Joshua Baca speaks with Dr. Debra Mielewski, Technical Fellow of Sustainability at Ford, and Paul Snyder, Chairman of the Transportation Design Department at the College for Creative Studies, about what sustainability means in the auto industry and how plastic producers and automakers like Ford and Covestro are working together to design the vehicles of the future.

On This Episode:

Dr. Deborah Mielewski

Dr. Deborah Mielewski is the Senior Technical Leader of Sustainable and Emerging Materials at Ford Motor Company. She received her B.S.E. ('86), M.S.E. ('93) and PhD ('98) degrees in Chemical Engineering, from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and has been with Ford Motor Company for 34 years. Dr. Mielewski started her career at Ford Research in automotive paint durability, then moved to polymer processing and materials development. Because of her passion for preserving the environment, she initiated the biomaterials program at Ford Research in 2001, when “being green” was not very popular. Her team was the first to demonstrate soy-based foam that met all the requirements for automotive seating and Ford launched soy-based foam on the 2008 Mustang. For the past 12 years, soy seat cushions, backs and headrests have been used on every Ford North American built vehicle (over 18.5 million vehicles). Bio-based foams on Ford vehicles have collectively reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 228 million pounds using over 687B soybeans, which also produces extra revenue for U.S. farmers. Soy foam reduces petroleum dependence by over 5 million pounds annually.


The Sustainable and Emerging Materials group continues to pioneer the development of sustainable plastic materials that meet stringent automotive requirements, including natural fiber reinforced plastics and polymer resins made from renewable feed stocks. Other successes are: wheat straw filled storage bins (2010 Ford Flex), tree-based cellulose composite armrest substrates (2013 Lincoln MKX) and console substrates (2019 Lincoln Continental). Last year, Ford announced their intent to produce headlamp housings from a coffee chaff composite through a partnership with McDonalds, Competitive Green Technologies and the University of Guelph. Ford currently has launched 10 plant-based materials in production vehicles, establishing a reputation as a leader in this space. Dr. Mielewski’ s effort has also been actively involved in recent implementations of recycled materials such as carpet waste into under the hood components.


Dr. Mielewski is passionate about the work she does to reduce Ford’s environmental footprint and believes that these new materials are going to dominate the market in the future. Her philosophy is to “do the right thing” in incremental, but ever advancing steps. She has appeared in a Ford national commercial, the NOVA “Making Things” series, TEDx, and Smithsonian’s “The Age of Plastics” symposium. She has been interviewed by countless media outlets, including Wall Street Journal, Time Inc., Greenbiz, Cheddar, Fox Business, CNBC and CNN. She has over 60 referred journal publications and 20 U. S. patents. Her work has been acknowledged with awards such as the Henry Ford Technology Award, the R&D100 Award, the Free Press Automotive Leadership Award, the Environmental Management Association Award, 5 SPE Environmental Innovation Awards and the American Chemical Society’s Industrial Innovation Award.

Paul Snyder

Internationally recognized automotive designer, educator and CCS alumnus Paul Snyder’s experience spans four continents and encompasses both exterior and interior development for a number of automotive brands, including Honda, Ford, Acura and Renault. For Ford Motor Company, he designed exterior and interior solutions for the Taurus/Sable and Explorer production vehicles and later oversaw projects for the Taurus X, Ford Five Hundred, and Flex production vehicles.

Prior to joining CCS in 2015 as the Paul and Helen Farago Chair of Transportation Design, Snyder worked at Honda Research and Development in California where he was Assistant Chief Designer, overseeing production and concept projects for the 2012 European Civic, 2015 Accord, and the 2018 Odyssey.

Snyder previously taught transportation design and visual communications at Pratt Institute as well as a range of undergraduate and graduate courses at Wayne State University and CCS. In addition to his work as car designer, Snyder is an accomplished figure painter, sculptor, and collagist, having earned a Master of Fine Arts degree cum laude in fine art and cultural studies from the New York Academy of Art in New York City, where he has also shown his work.

Since accepting the Chair position at CCS, the Transportation Design Department under Snyder has sustained and strengthened its exceptional record of preparing/placing Transportation Design students into internships and full-time design positions annually. CCS/Industry sponsored projects directed by Snyder since 2015 include; Ford, FCA, GM, Nissan/Infinity, Toyota, Honda, GAC, Bordrin, Yanfeng, as well as numerous tier 1 suppliers and industry consortiums.


Continue to visit America’s Plastic Makers: Making Sustainable ChangeSM to learn more about the steps companies are taking to help end plastic waste, build a circular economy for plastics and create a more sustainable future.

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