Leonardo Simon

Chemical Engineering Professor

Leonardo Simon, a lead investigator with Ontario’s BioCar Initiative, has invented a process that combines plastic with wheat stalks to create lighter car parts. Ford Motor Company was the first to make use of the new parts – its 2010 Ford Flex, made in the company’s Oakville plant, includes straw-reinforced plastic storage bins for third row passengers.

“The most satisfying thing was to see that we’re using something that is grown in Ontario in a product that is assembled in Ontario. This is sustainable innovation,” says Simon, a Waterloo chemical engineering professor.

According to Ford, this small change saves on petroleum by 9,100 kg a year and slashes carbon dioxide emissions by 13,600 kg a year. Now Ford is looking into using the material for other new applications.

Simon, who spent a great deal of personal time getting the project off the ground, worked with a multi-university team that’s part of the Ontario government-funded BioCar project to advance the use of more plant-based materials in the auto industry.

Eighteen short months after the BioCar team presented to Ford’s Biomaterials Group in 2008, the straw reinforced plastic was a go. Simon says the quick turnaround in accelerating the technology to market is due to the team clearly understanding what industry wanted and then working hard to deliver it. “This has been a very good opportunity for the University of Waterloo to be recognized as having a high impact on developing these sustainable technologies for the marketplace.”