Ford Is Looking Towards the Gecko for Future Technologies

“Vanity, definitely my favorite sin” - it’s what Al Pacino says at the end of The Devil’s Advocate, and the broadly accepted meaning of the line is that, ultimately, what humans crave for is adulation. Say it weren’t for that, we should have learned by now that we solely need to respect nature’s rules if we want to move forward. Luckily, some companies have finally got it.
Ford Is Looking Towards the Gecko for Future Technologies 1 photo
Photo: Ford
In just a couple of words, Ford researchers will study the gecko’s sticky toe pads for clues to improve adhesives and increase the recyclability of auto parts. It’s a piece of the automaker’s commitment to reduce, reuse and recycle, a section of the carmaker’s global sustainability strategy to lessen its environmental footprint.

Yes, we know it sounds quite ironic, considering this policy comes from the company that is manufacturing the best-selling full-size pickup trucks in the US. To be honest, these big boys are not exactly the cleanest gasoline munchers in the line-up. But that’s a different discussion; let us get to the point.

First, the problem. As we said, to make the manufacturing process somewhat more sustainable, they need to be able to recycle the car parts. A fundamental challenge is a glue used to adhere foams to plastics and metals. What Ford is currently using makes disassembling parts for recycling nearly impossible.

The solution: the gecko. Echo? No, gecko. It’s that cute lizard that has really sticky fingers. In fact, they’re not sticky at all. The lizard’s toe pads allow it to adhere to most surfaces without liquids or surface tension. The reptile can then easily release itself leaving no residue.

Here comes the impressive part: a typical gecko weighing 2.5 ounces (70 grams) is capable of supporting 293 pounds (132 kg). That is why Ford engineers believe the reptile could inspire a host of adhesive innovations for global applications.

“Solving this problem could provide cost savings and certainly environmental savings,” said Debbie Mielewski, Ford senior technical leader for plastics and sustainability research. “It means we could increase the recycling of more foam and plastics, and further reduce our environmental footprint.”

It’s called biomimicry, which is a fancy word for replicating what nature does... well, naturally. They partnered up with cosmetics giant Procter & Gamble and have already hosted a biomimicry workshop at its Dearborn campus with the participation of both the company and The Biomimicry Institute.
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